Ethiopia repurposes textile factories to manufacture quality PPE

Ethiopia has created the capacity to produce more than 60 million pieces of international-standard personal protective equipment (PPE) per month following government efforts to reduce reliance on imports, while protecting the local manufacturing industry.

With demand for PPE to remain high for the foreseeable future, the Ethiopian government has moved swiftly to position the country as a regional hub for PPE production, reducing the region’s reliance on imported medical masks, barrier masks, gowns and coveralls.

Wearing PPE can drastically reduce transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease.

“The local production of PPE means that Ethiopia can meet domestic demand, and even international demand in the long-term, helping to prevent the spread of the disease,” said Lelise Neme, Commissioner of the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC).

He went on, “We are helping Africa develop a self-sufficient supply chain, which can address the continent’s needs during the current pandemic and any future public-health crises.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, many African countries have faced shortages of PPE, turning primarily to Asian countries to fill the supply gap.

Ethiopian government initiatives have helped textile manufacturers repurpose their factories and machinery, saving tens of thousands of jobs after the pandemic caused sharp drops in regional and global demand for textiles and garments, and threatened Ethiopia’s development as a competitive manufacturing hub.

“It was clear that the pandemic could have resulted in a gradual but complete
demobilization of factories at industrial parks which directly employ more than 76,000 workers,” said Sandokan Debebe, CEO of the Industrial Parks Development Corporation of Ethiopia (IPDC).

“There was a huge risk that past gains would have been arrested or completely reversed, destroying the livelihoods of so many people.”

The distribution of locally produced PPE began last year, when barrier masks were provided to school children by the Ministry of Education. Disposable, medical-grade masks have also been distributed to essential workers.

“Developing capacity for domestic production of international-standard PPE is critical to our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and our ability to protect our health care providers including the health extension workers, who form a vital link between health facilities and communities,” said Dr. Lia Tadesse, Ethiopian Minister of Health.

Multiple government ministries and departments – including the Ethiopian Ministry of  Health, IPDC, EIC, the Ethiopian Pharmaceuticals Supply Agency (EPSA) and the Ethiopian Food and Drug Authority (EFDA) – are integral to the development of domestic manufacturing capacity and the distribution of PPE across the country.

They have responded to the disruption caused by the pandemic by implementing temporary regulatory measures and providing financing, facilitated with technical support from Big Win Philanthropy, an independent philanthropic foundation.

The government’s effort is aligned with its National Strategy and Plan of Action for
Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Development in Ethiopia, which set out a ten-year plan to support domestic manufacturing capacity.

To date, there have been 41 manufacturers which have produced PPE in Ethiopia, including 17 producing medical-grade, disposable PPE that have received EFDA quality approval.

“So far, Ethiopian PPE manufacturers in industrial parks alone have produced over 45 million masks for export and import substitution,” said Behailu Kebede, head of Marketing and Communication at IPDC.


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