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Companies suit up in battle against Ebola

Updated: 2014-10-29 13:55
By ZHAO RUIXUE in Anqiu, Shandong, LI XIANG in Beijing and JACK FREIFELDER in New York (China Daily USA)

Two US-based manufacturers of protective suits worn by health workers battling the Ebola virus are increasing production.

Lakeland Industries Inc and the DuPont Co, two of the top suppliers of the equipment, have increased production of the outerwear to meet demand.

One of Lakeland's factories in China, a plant in Anqiu, Shandong province, is working around the clock to make the suits.

Wang Ximin, the plant's general manager, said it has doubled its workforce and equipment output. Sales of the hazardous materials suits are up 30 to 40 percent from the same time last year.

The increased workforce is producing about 6,000 suits a day, Wang said. Most of the gear will be sent to West Africa and hospitals in the United States and Europe.

The suits are made to the same standard as those worn by healthcare workers during the SARS andH1N1 flu outbreaks, Wang said.

"There's a tremendous demand for PPE (personal protective equipment) in Africa particularly, but there's also a demand for it among a number of American hospitals where they think they might see an Ebola patient," Stephen S Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, told China Daily on Tuesday.

"The demand is clearly great compared to the supply, and we are beginning to see shortages," he said.

PPE suits are worn to minimize a person's direct exposure to a variety of risks, including airborne particulates, biohazards and other chemicals. The suits also have been instrumental in Ebola-related groundwork in Africa, Morse said.

"The more we get here, the less that's available for use in Africa where the most important work is being done," he said. "So any addition to the PPE supply is welcomed because the demand is quite high."

On Oct 24, Lakeland, headquartered in Ronkonkoma, New York, announced an $11.2 million private stock sale to meet "increased demand … due to the Ebola crisis," according to a company press release.

Christopher J. Ryan, Lakeland's CEO, said in a press release that Lakeland began increasing its manufacturing capacity in September to help "fight against the spread of Ebola".

"This offering provides us with the capital … to keep up with the significant global demand we have seen from governments, health organizations and hospitals purchasing our fluid and pathogen resistant certified hazmat suits," Ryan said.

DuPont Co, a major chemical company headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, said it has more than tripled its production since the start of the outbreak in March, according to spokesman Daniel Turner.

"Even with the significant capacity increases we have already made, demand is now exceeding our supply," Turner wrote in an email to China Daily. "We continue to take actions to increase the availability of our garments."

The Kimberly-Clark Corp, which makes protective disposable medical equipment, said it has seen a 20 to 30 percent rise in demand compared with the same time last year, Reuters reported.

The virus outbreak has been lucrative for manufacturers. Prices for protective suits range from several dozen yuan to more than 1,000 yuan (about $160) on eBay.

Almost 5,000 people have been killed by the Ebola outbreak and more than 10,000 have been infected in West Africa, according to figures from the World Health Organization. Japan reported suspected cases after the US and Europe confirmed several diagnoses.

Morse said China can "definitely" contribute to the fight against Ebola, but providing healthcare personnel is a key issue.

"You need the most experienced people at this point," Morse said, "but what we most need is personnel at various levels. I haven't seen that many people coming forward, so that may be difficult."

Contact the writers at zhaoruixue@chinadaily.com.cn, lixiang@chinadaily.com.cn and jackfreifelder@chinadailyusa.com

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