PPE—personal protective equipment including face masks, disposal gloves, and gowns—has saved countless lives during the Covid-19 pandemic. But many manufacturers in emerging markets lack the capacity to produce high-quality products that meet international standards.
One critical factor constraining the production and export of PPE from many emerging economies has been the unfamiliarity of manufacturers, buyers, aggregators, and procurers with the different standards and compliance requirements for key markets. To fill this knowledge gap, IFC partnered with the British Standards Institute (BSI) to develop the Technical Benchmarking Guide on Covid-19 Related Personal Protective Equipment.
IFC and BSI recently held a webinar titled “Navigating Global Landscapes for Medical PPE” to launch the guide, which seeks to help manufacturers and conformity assessment bodies in supplier countries to understand regulatory and other requirements for PPE in their key potential markets. The guide also seeks to help purchasers and users understand the main similarities and differences between their own requirements for PPE and those of other markets, to identify possible opportunities for alignment. Webinar panelists featured representatives from international development organisations, standards bodies, government institutions, and manufacturers.
The guide and webinar are part of a two-year global advisory programme on PPE sponsored by IFC and UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO). The programme aims to increase the supply of Covid-related PPE by supporting emerging-market manufacturers, and is part of IFC’s Covid response under its Global Health Platform.
The event also brought a focus to diversity, specifically the need to design better-fitting PPE for women, and to the environmental challenges stemming from the widespread use of disposable PPE. “We must also recognise that society’s perception of ‘quality’ is rapidly expanding to embrace the impact that products, services, and processes have on wider society and the environment,” said Lord Jamie Lindsay, President of the UK’s Chartered Quality Institute.
The World Health Organization (WHO), which has worked on defining preferred characteristics for PPE and has prioritised establishment of a global set of PPE standards, also presented at the event. WHO shares IFC’s goal to promote better alignment of the various standards for PPE under a set of harmonised global standards that also address sustainability and gender considerations.
Because PPE standards and regulations continue to be revised and developed at the country and global level, IFC and BSI will update the guide periodically until December 2023. Nonetheless, while the guide will provide easy access to important information, the time lag involved in updating means that those working on PPE must always consult the most up-to-date versions of relevant standards and technical regulations.