WHO says mask demand may hurt health workers

Friday, February 7, 2020, Vol. 44, No. 6

BEIJING (AP) — The World Health Organization is warning that demand for masks and other protective equipment might jeopardize health workers responding to the outbreak of the new virus in China.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the U.N. agency's emergencies chief, said Friday that WHO was most concerned about the surge in demand for specialist masks that health workers use when treating infectious patients, like respirators, rather than the cheap surgical masks sold more widely.

WHO's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the increased pressure for equipment including gowns, gloves and masks led the agency to send supplies of such protective gear to countries in every region.

"This situation has been exacerbated by widespread inappropriate use of (personal protective equipment) outside of patient care," he said. "As a result, there are now depleted stockpiles of four to six months."

Tedros said the global stocks of masks and respirators were insufficient to meet the demands of WHO and partners. He added WHO was now working with private and public partners to try to manage the supply.