An overwhelming demand for protective medical face masks and surgical masks is taking its toll on local pharmacies who tell Barbados TODAY they have been out of stock mere weeks after the outbreak of the Coronavirus.
In addition, demands globally on the pharmaceutical products are making it extremely difficult for importers and distributors to source them as scarcity results in sharp price increases as well.
A well-known distributor informed Barbados TODAY that when in stock, a case of 120 N95 face masks is sold for $630; a box carrying 50 ‘regular’ surgical face masks cost $15.50, and $63 is the price of 50 surgical masks with a “visor and plastic shield that covers the eye area”.
Spokesperson for the People’s Party for Democracy and Development Paul Gibson who is a pharmacist and distributor of pharmaceutical products described the demand as “extraordinary” even from private citizens who are requesting boxes of the products for their homes.
He explained: “This is not only happening in Barbados but it is happening worldwide, so much so that when I contact my suppliers overseas for the N95 and M95 masks, they are saying that they are completely out of stock. So this is an international occurrence, it is not just Barbados,” the healthcare professional reported.
He explained that Barbadian businesses were competing with millions of people from China, a large producer of the products and where the Coronavirus is most prevalent.
“Barbados is ordering from those same sources and as a result, the demands here and the supply would not be as we would like. They are also becoming a little more expensive, because many of the manufacturers are raising their production capacity,” he disclosed.
Praising the response of local health authorities thus far, he expressed confidence that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has ordered enough stock for the country’s healthcare and quarantine facilities.
Elsewhere, owner and Chief Pharmacist of Better Health Pharmacy Rene Brathwaite has also struggled to acquire the prized commodity despite overwhelming interest from customers.
“A number of people have been coming in asking questions about the virus and we have tried to give them as much information as possible to try to quell their fears about the situation.
We have tried to get some of the masks, to have them in stock but we are being told that it is out of stock so I don’t know if the Ministry of Health or those other official agencies may have purchased enough, but we can’t get any,” said the Warrens-based pharmacist.
Brathwaite added that efforts to gain more information from local distributors have been futile.
She however admitted that since the virus was not yet an immediate threat to the country, much of the panic is “unnecessary”.
“From what I have read and gleaned, those who have died from the virus are persons who are already weak and feeble. It feels like it’s just a scare because many viruses are out there with the same characteristics that perhaps we should be a little bit more scared of, so I feel as though people are running scared right now a little unnecessarily,” Brathwaite said.
At the nearby RX Solutions Pharmacy and Wellness, pharmacist Shantelle Clarke has been receiving queries “on a daily basis” about the masks but said they have none in stock and have made no attempts to acquire them.
“It isn’t really a necessity to have the mask because the Government has already stated there are no cases of the virus here so I don’t think it is necessary unless someone is travelling to someplace like China,” Clarke told Barbados TODAY.
She suggested that a lack of knowledge was causing an overreaction and she encouraged citizens to seek information from credible online sources like the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s website.
“I think people are just listening to the news, seeing the images, seeing the videos and are just focused on that as opposed to actually acquiring the knowledge,” she said.
She added that while the N95 mask is supposed to give the greatest level of protection, people are simply satisfied to have “any mask”.
“But that isn’t exactly practical because many of the masks don’t give the proper protection,” said the pharmacist.
“If you have the mask but you are still forgetting to wash your hands after eating or interacting with people, you can still end up contracting the virus. The same way you can protect yourself from the cold by increasing immunity through increased vitamin C, washing your hands and consuming more fruits, is how you really need to protect yourself from the Coronavirus.”