THE Philippines is set to use a collaborative online platform connecting suppliers, manufacturers and buyers of personal protective equipment (PPE) amid sustained demand in pandemic.
In a recent ceremony, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) formally turned over to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) the “Enhanced Manufacturing of Protective Wear and Equipment for Covid-19 Response in the Philippines,” or “Empower PH” program.
The project is a collaborative online platform providing business matchmaking space for suppliers of materials, PPE manufacturers and buyers. It aims to speed up the production and distribution of PPEs in the country.
The platform was initially launched in November last year. The website is a centralized information hub for product technical design packs and best practices for PPE manufacturing; and serves as a vetting mechanism for quality assurance.
“We believe this initiative is necessary to complement the national government’s efforts to mitigate and manage the impacts not only of Covid-19, but of future pandemics and other disasters as well,” Trade Undersecretary Rafaelita M. Aldaba said.
“We want to ensure that ‘Empower PH’ continues to be a platform where our local MSMEs [micro, small and medium enterprises] will have access to information that will enable them to participate and compete in the market,” added Maria Luisa Isabel Lim-Jolongbayan, Team Leader, Institutions and Partnerships of UNDP.
The platform’s 5-point vetting process is based on the level of quality standards by the Department of Health, World Health Organization and Bureau of Philippine Standards.
Such is seen as a necessary feature as Aldaba explained that online shopping platforms make PPE supplies easily accessible, but no scheme is in place to check for compliance and safety.
“At the same time, consumers should also be empowered,” she said. “With the vetting process [in ‘Empower PH’], we are protecting them by making sure that the PPEs and face masks that they buy are comfortable to wear and safe to use.”
Last year, eight Metro Manila-based sewing groups passed the vetting process and signed up in the “Empower PH” platform.
The UNDP said it intends to expand the initiative in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in partnership with the Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education’s Technical Skills Development. Fourteen sewing groups will undergo training on PPE and face mask manufacturing.
“We continue to support the expansion of the platform to include medical PPEs, as well as other disaster response needs in the future because we believe that it is necessary for the platform to stay relevant and useful,” UNDP Resident Representative Selva Ramachandran added.
Prior to the pandemic, the Philippines had no major PPE manufacturing firms. The Coalition of Philippine Manufacturers of PPE (CPMP) repurposed its factories heeding the call of DTI to boost the supply of medical grade PPEs and invested $35 million.
The CPMP was able to supply an annual capacity of 720 million masks, 36 million units of medical grade coveralls and isolation gowns, and 120 million units of PPE related accessory cover by the third quarter of last year.
In May, however, the group urged the government to set up a supply chain committee ensuring the procurement of locally made medical-grade PPEs as foreign supplies flood the domestic market.
Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez backed the garment industry’s plea for the government to have a preference over locally produced PPE during procurement. He expressed the need to have a legislative measure that will prioritize the purchase of “critical products” made locally such as the PPEs.