Delivering quality-assured PPE to reach front line workers

In 2021, UNICEF shipped more than 434 million items of personal protective equipment (PPE) to 115 countries, helping to protect health care workers against COVID-19 and keep health systems running.

A women is getting a vaccine from a health worker.
26 April 2022

Amid continuing high demand for PPE last year, UNICEF remained one of the world’s leading agencies procuring and delivering surgical masks, face shields, gloves, coveralls, boots and medical gowns to low- and middle-income countries. These supplies were essential to protect front line and health care workers as they supported the roll out COVID-19 and routine immunization programmes. A significant percentage of UNICEF-procured PPE was destined for countries receiving support under UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC) Appeal, which helped raise the funds needed for the procurement of these vital products.

Pre-positioning for fast delivery 

Building on lessons learned from the severe supply constraints experienced in 2020, UNICEF planned ahead to make sure that quality-assured PPE would be available whatever the trajectory of the pandemic. This meant PPE must meet strict technical performance specifications so that it can protect the person wearing it. UNICEF only procures and delivers PPE that complies with standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Through a joint-tender process, 11 United Nations agencies and two international non-governmental organizations worked together to establish long-term agreements (LTAs) with PPE manufacturers. This expanded and diversified the PPE manufacturing base, helping to ensure an undisrupted supply of products. Aside from affordability and access, quality was a non-negotiable element in the LTAs. Today, the agreements ensure we can prevent stockouts in the event of a future health crisis.  

From UNICEF global supply hubs in Copenhagen, Dubai, Guangzhou and Panama City, UNICEF processed requests and delivered a range of items that had been stockpiled for rapid response. Pre-positioning and delivering from multiple hubs helped to overcome challenges caused by the ongoing turmoil in the global logistics sector. In total, UNICEF shipped PPE worth $131.4 million in the course of the year.

Consolidating and customizing the supply response

Five countries – Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Yemen and Lebanon – received the largest consignments of UNICEF-procured PPE. Sizeable quantities were also shipped to emergency settings, including Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to support health and other front line workers. 

To overcome supply chain disruptions and lack of airfreight space, UNICEF frequently consolidated PPE with other supplies using customized transport solutions, including charter cargo flights. Venezuela was one country to benefit from this approach, receiving PPE, vaccines and water and sanitation kits in a single shipment. This integrated supply operation supported countries to roll out complex COVID-19 and emergency programming in 2021.

Bundling PPE to meet complex needs 

For many low- and middle-income countries, the task of rolling out infection prevention and control measures within health care settings was a serious challenge. To support them, UNICEF designed four PPE kits with different item combinations to make it safer for front line workers to go about their work, while helping them to protect themselves and their communities. Kits were bundled to cover low- and high-risk infection exposure scenarios, containing the most appropriate items for each context.