Medical-Grade Personal Protective Equipment for Frontliners Protecting Country from COVID-19 to be Produced by Philippine Garment Exporters and Government

To further rectify the urgent need to equip frontline healthcare workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the Philippines, member-companies of the Confederation of Wearable Exporters of the Philippines (CONWEP) will begin local production of medical-grade PPE.

“We need to protect our healthcare workers as they are in the frontline of our fight against COVID 19. With PPEs in short supply globally, the government and private sector have collaborated closely to locally-produce these critical items needed to protect those who are protecting us against this virus.” said Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary and Board of Investments (BOI) Chairman Ramon Lopez.

Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III added that, “the Philippines is preparing for all possible scenarios in COVID-19. In the midst of the global shortages in PPE, the IATF through the DTI and DOH in partnership with PGH and CONWEP has mobilized the local garments and textile industry to mass produce PPEs for our health workers towards a more responsive and sustainable supply in our country.”

Further adding, “With this initiative, the Philippines will be able to produce medical grade coveralls to protect healthworkers at the frontlines of the COVID-19 efforts.”

With supplies decreasing daily with the rising tide of COVID-19 cases throughout the Philippines, medical and healthcare groups have urged for donations of PPEs for the country’s frontliners as deaths could in fact be prevented if there was ample supply of PPE which was backed by the Philippine Medical Association.

Previously, the Philippines was not a local producer of medical-grade PPEs. To resolve this growing problem, Secretary Lopez emphasized that the project leveraged the garments exporting sector’s core strengths in product development, global network of raw materials, and a highly-organized management and production system and pool of talents.

The government—primarily through the BOI Governors Fita Aldaba and Marjorie Ramos-Samaniego—spearheaded the project by linking Industry and the Health sector (PGH and DOH) in developing a medical-grade prototype that can be used even in the high COVID-risk hospital situations (e.g. Operating Rooms, COVID 19 positive wards, ICUs, and the like).

Under this urgent partnership, member-companies of CONWEP executed the design prototype of the PPE coveralls. After several tests conducted by the DOH and PGH, CONWEP refitted the design prototypes until its final seal of approval by the DOH and PGH.

While there are limitations in the availability of raw materials, as medical-grade fluid impermeable textiles have to be imported, CONWEP was able to source medical-grade materials including the face hoodie part and garters which has fabric importation certificates from an international accreditation firm. The materials will be air shipped on April 9 and roll out of production at the garment factories will immediately start after the Holy Week.

Dr. Regina Berna Head of the PGH Hospital Infection Control Unit (HICU) said that, “locally-made PPEs which meet standards are exactly what we need during this pandemic period which further complicated by limited access to stocks from traditional supplier. We at the PGH HICU have seen and tested a sample of the CONWEP-BOI PPE. Its material and design meet our strict requirements for PPEs to be used by our health force.”

PPEs that will be used in hospital environments need to be of medical grade, particularly in high risk prone areas. Not all PPEs, even if they have a certain level of waterproofing, are resistant to or can combat contaminants—adding to the persistent and significant exposure risks of the country’s frontliners. Recognizing the extraordinary hazards to healthcare frontliners are dealing with, CONWEP emphasized that the collaboration focused on medical-grade PPEs from the very onset.

Additionally, Secretary Lopez noted that another very important component of the initiative for re-purposing manufacturing is the linking of resources and capabilities across different sectors. In this case, “We have to complement the production capacity of CONWEP with financial resources which lie elsewhere in the private sector,” said Secretary Lopez.  Further explaining that the export business of CONWEP is based on a very competitive model where margins are literally paper-thin, so while they employ a significant number of workers and are able to export Philippine-made wearables globally, they are not among the biggest Filipino companies in terms of financial resources.

This process of linking production capability and financial resources received a boost as San Miguel Corporation (SMC) will procure the initial 10,000 pieces of PPE coveralls and donate these to PGH.

“We are grateful to Secretary Mon Lopez and his team for helping us tap local manufacturers through CONWEP who can make PPEs for our medical front-liners. When we announced our P500 million fund to acquire PPEs, our goal was primarily to boost supply of protective gear. But we also felt this is one way we can help reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our SMEs. Now more than ever, we need local manufacturers to produce not just food and other necessities, but the very tools we need to fight this pandemic. At this crucial time, we only have each other to lean on. Filipinos helping other Filipinos. That is how we will beat Covid-19,” said Ramon S. Ang, San Miguel Corp. President and COO.

Secretary Lopez in thanking SMC for their contribution, anticipates that other business groups’ will join and support this project—for locally-manufacturing medical grade PPEs that will protect those who protect the public from the global pandemic of COVID-19.

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