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PPE greatest threat to NZ’s covid-19 strategy

By Sir Ray Avery


Auckland – Over the past few weeks, the daily briefings by the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield have reassured the New Zealand public that there are sufficient stocks of essential covid-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) available for frontline medical staff.

However, frontline staff in hospitals and aged care facilities across the country have claimed they had no PPE or were being asked not to use their PPE in case it was needed later.

There are clearly serious breaches of the New Health and Safety act.

However finally, the government is listening to frontline medical staff and the New Zealand Auditor-General has been directed to conduct an independent review of the Ministry of Health’s management of personal protective equipment (PPE) required for the covid-19 response.

This is a great win in support of the problems frontline nurses, doctors and caregivers face daily.

New Zealanders are making extraordinary sacrifices every day to try to bring the covid-19 pandemic under control, but this will be worth nothing unless we protect our frontline medical staff from becoming infected by covid-19, and in turn, infecting their patients.

There is no social distancing between healthcare workers and their patients and the difference between life and death for both parties may come down to the use of the right PPE.

To date, 130 front line health care workers are probable or confirmed covid-19 cases. Fifty percent of them were infected in the workplace and there is a very real probability that some of the covid-19 deaths were due to infections caused by frontline healthcare workers infecting their patients due to not wearing the correct PPE or defective PPE.

Over the past 30 years, I have on behalf of commercial medical device manufacturers, been sourcing PPE products and HEPA bacteriological filters from China.

What we have learnt is that it’s common for Chinese PPE suppliers to export a product under one licensed company’s name but to source their products from second, third or fourth party factories.

Over the past six months, we have seen over 28,000 companies in China being re-purposed to make surgical masks. Many with little or no quality standards. The Netherlands, USA, Europe, Spain, Turkey, Hong Kong and India have all rejected PPE products sourced from China.

It is also common practice for finished product PPE manufacturers to self-certify compliance with so basically the certification is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Because of the evident lack of traceability and evident poor quality in the Chinese PPE industry, we recommend that all our clients conduct independent testing of every batch of the product supplied by Chinese PPE manufacturers.

Even with some of our most reliable Chinese suppliers, we have to reject some batches because they do not meet the required standards and are not fit for purpose.

The war on covid-19 will not be won in the streets and houses of New Zealand but in our hospitals and clinics.

Due to the lack of expenditure in our healthcare system, we have the second-highest rate of hospital acquired infections in the developed world. Put simply, our hospitals have high rates of infectious bacteria and are not fit for purpose as biocontainment facilities for COVID-19 patients.

The good news is that what we learnt from hospitals in Wuhan, China, is that while hospital wards may be contaminated with COVID-19 viruses if medical staff wear the correct PPE, then they do not get infected by the virus and add to the patient infection stream.

I would ask all New Zealanders on Anzac Day to acknowledge the efforts of our frontline nurses, doctors and healthcare workers and make sure they hold the government to account to provide the correct, safe PPE so they can do what they do best.

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