How our ageing population threatens global PPE supply

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By Sean Keller, Managing Director of ASAP Innovations

By now, we have all become accustomed to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) on a day-to-day basis. Whether that is a shopkeeper wearing nitrile gloves when handling cash at the till, or a commuter wearing a facemask on the train – PPE is now part of our daily routines. 

But. While the use of PPE is a relatively new phenomenon for the general public, it’s part of everyday life for healthcare workers, and will always be. So, what does the future look like for PPE demand, and will the industry be able to keep pace with the expected demand?

A year like no other

There’s now light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the pandemic, as a result of the successful vaccine roll-out up and down the country. More of us have become aware of the health and hygiene benefits of wearing PPE during certain parts of the day and will look to carry on stocking up personal supplies. 

The PPE sector has been through multi-faceted predicaments during the pandemic such as shortages of raw materials, Covid outbreaks in Malaysia, causing mass factory closures, and a rise in inferior or fraudulent providers entering the market. Credible manufacturers have done very well to reach a point where a demand / supply equilibrium is once more being achieved. Despite an easing of the pandemic in some countries, demand is still very high, especially given a new-found appreciation for the need for infection control, both in a range of industrial and personal use contexts.

Ageing population pressures

Recent research reveals ageing populations across Europe as well as new regulatory requirements and an uplift in hygiene awareness will contribute to increasing levels of demand on manufacturers in Malaysia – the country which accounts for approximately 65% of world production of PPE.  

Europe’s ageing population poses a potential threat to global PPE supply chains as year-on-year growth in the sector is projected to be 15%-20%, (296 billion to 420 billion gloves every year). Current global glove usage per second is in excess of 13,000. Significant shortfalls in supply means it is imperative end-users seek out certified suppliers in order to ensure quality across all aspects of production, as well as reliable supply chains.

As a result of everybody now living longer, the demographic timebomb is now ticking away – along with the traditional age profile of societies. 

According to Eurostat, between 2020 and 2050 the percentage of EU citizens aged 70+ will increase by 10%, with even larger rises for those groups aged 80+ and 85+. This will result in a significant increase in the need for equipment for carers as the continent continues to turn grey.  

It is not just mainland Europe who are living longer too, according to The Lancet, it is predicted that within eight years in the UK there will be 2.8 million people over 65 needing nursing and social care, unable to cope alone. Put bluntly, there will be a lot more future carers treating considerably more vulnerable people, therefore requiring stock in a market which is subject to significant and growing undersupply – a PPE canyon as opposed to a mountain. 

Post-pandemic outlook

As we have seen, there have been a number of barriers for the suppliers to overcome – particularly regarding Malaysian glove production. However, with longer term factors about to impact PPE demand, it’s never been more important for purchasers of PPE to ensure they are working with a credible and reliable provider that is aware of worldwide issues and has contingency planning in place to cope with any issues that may arise. Post-pandemic PPE demand is here to stay and it is crucial that the healthcare sector has reliable access to credible and certified PPE supply.

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