Medical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic

To support countries in their response to the coronavirus pandemic, UNICEF has sent over 400 million medical masks since January 2020.*

world mask week
01 December 2021

Since the beginning of the pandemic, demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, has soared to unprecedented levels. The United Nations has forecasted the demand for surgical masks alone to be in the region of 2.4 billion in 2020.  

UNICEF has been working closely with other United Nations organizations, governments and industry to forecast demand, procure masks at an acceptable price and required quality and ensure a fair distribution, particularly to low- and middle-income countries. Since the start of the outbreak, UNICEF has sent 385 million surgical masks and 23.3 million N95 respirators, and reached 134 countries.

Working with a diversified supplier base around the world and following a strict tender-based process that guarantees international standards are met, UNICEF procures the quality-assured medical masks listed below.


Respirators are masks used to reduce exposure to hazardous airborne particles, including dust particles and infectious agents, as well as gases and vapors. In the context of COVID-19, respirators are reserved for use by health workers performing aerosol-generating procedures or providing direct care to COVID-19 patients.

UNICEF procures N95, FFP2 and KN95 respirators. While the N95 meets the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health NIOSH-42C FR84, the FFP2 is certified by the European Union conforming to EN 149-2001 and the KN95 meets the Chinese National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) standard (GB2626-20 06). Respirators procured by UNICEF meet the above standards.

Surgical masks  

Surgical masks are medical masks that are recommended for the use of health workers.  

Surgical masks are loosely fitted. They create a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment. Based on their filtration efficacy, surgical masks are classified into three different levels: Type I, II, IIR.

UNICEF procures Type I and Type IIR.  While Type I masks have a bacterial filtration efficiency of 95, Type IIR can filter 98 per cent of particles of 3 micrometre.

UNICEF ensures it only purchases PPE that meets all required standards.   


*Page last updated: 1 December 2021