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24 April, 2020

Health Ministry’s expensive Chinese suits no more effective than Ukrainian products

The Ministry of Health is endangering doctors by blocking procurement of protective suits under the guise of following regulations, some officials are saying

Last week, the ministry halted the order of 90,000 suits from a Ukrainian maker for Hr 22 million ($800,000). Instead, the ministry agreed to import 71,000 suits from China for Hr 35 million ($1.3 million), at almost double the cost per unit. 

Deputy Health Minister Svitlana Shatalova said this was because the Ukrainian-made suits don’t answer to international standard EN 14126:2003 on protective clothing. This standard governs protective clothing’s resistance to infection.

The ministry also said that this is the reason it could investigate for wrongdoing the Medical Procurement of Ukraine, the independent state company that placed the first order with the Ukrainian maker for Hr 22 million at the ministry’s request. 

There are two problems though. Firstly, the standard invoked by the ministry is irrelevant when it comes to resistance against viruses. Both the Ukrainian-made suits and the Chinese suits can be penetrated by the virus, which cannot enter the human body through the skin. Both suits are only effective when worn in addition to masks and respirators. 

“The nonsense about conformity to standard EN 14126:2003 makes no sense in relation to viral infections,” wrote Volodymyr Kurpita, the former head of the Center for Public Health. 

“The explanations of compliance are not justified because the standard itself is for bacterial testing, not viruses,” he said. “Anyone who devised such a scam… should be held responsible.”

The second problem is that regional authorities have for weeks been buying and using the same kind of suits that the ministry kiboshed last week. They meet the same kind of Ukrainian standards.

“Does this mean that regional customers have been buying inadequate suits for about a month?” wrote Medical Procurement in a statement. 

“Does this in turn mean that millions of public funds from local budgets are thrown into the wind? Does this mean that thousands of already purchased suits that do not meet the new requirements of the Health Ministry need to be thrown away?” the statement reads.

The Ministry of Health did not respond to requests for comment despite multiple requests. 

The founder of Textile Contact, the Ukrainian manufacturer that was tapped to produce the 90,000 suits before the ministry halted the order, was told that there are no Ukrainian laboratories that are qualified to perform the EN 14126:2003 certification.

Performing the certification abroad requires the luxury of time and money, which Ukrainian health workers do not have. Protective equipment shortages mean that close to 20% of people with COVID-19 in the country are medical workers.

Kurpita told the Kyiv Post that the existing suits being used in Ukraine are fine – as long as they are not reused. When medical workers are forced to reuse them, their chance of getting sick rises at a time when the health system cannot afford to lose anybody. 

The ministry’s latest steps raised eyebrows among activists, nonprofits and investigators, who caught a possible whiff of corruption. Last week, the Anticorruption Action Center published a reminder of massive procurement kickbacks in the years before Ukraine started getting medical supplies through international organizations.

Activists say the move to investigate Medical Procurement may be an attempt to strip the state company of power.

Patients of Ukraine, which helps procure medical supplies and has been acquiring protective equipment for hospitals via donor funds, said it found Ukrainian manufacturers that meet the international certification and are willing to sell protective suits for Hr 215 ($8) per unit, compared to the Chinese suits, which cost closer to Hr 500 ($18) per unit.

“Doctors are looked after by volunteers, businesses and hospitals themselves, and you seem to care about your own pockets,” the nonprofit wrote on Facebook, addressing Health Minister Maksym Stepanov. 

Kurpita himself warned against the ministry “once again becoming a procurement agency, instead of organizing the government’s health policy.”

Kyiv Post

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