Protective suits were running low in Sierra Leone this month, when a Christian charity decided ship some over. The charity turned to American medical-wear suppliers, which came back with bad news: The suits needed to treat Ebola are running low in America, too.
“There’s been some sleepless nights,” said Jennifer Mounsey, director of corporate engagement for World Vision, the Christian humanitarian group based in Monrovia, Calif. “We’re all sweating bullets.”
The medical moon suit—which has come to symbolize the Ebola epidemic—is in short supply. Only a handful of manufacturers make the medical garb that doctors and ordinary people in West Africa need to protect themselves from the bodily fluids that spread the virus. The few global suppliers are ramping up production, but they are still straining to meet demand, especially since anxiety has risen in the U.S.
For months, companies like DuPont Co. have struggled to fill all the orders coming in for the niche products—chemical suits, boot covers, face masks, hoods—that make up what doctors call PPEs, or Personal Protective Equipment. Now, PPE orders are piling up faster than DuPont and others can fill them.
One of the demand spikes isn’t coming from West Africa—but from America. U.S. hospitals and government agencies have strained PPE supplies in some regions, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. This month, the CDC itself said it ordered $2.7 million in PPEs, a collection it calls a Strategic National Stockpile. CDC guidelines state American hospitals and firefighters need PPEs on hand, in case a potential Ebola suspect wanders into an emergency room or dials 911.