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PPE exports open new avenue for Bangladesh

  • Published at 10:24 pm June 27th, 2020
Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Exports in July-May stand at $11.58 million, 33 manufacturers engaged in the new product line    

The export of personal protective equipment (PPE) has opened a new avenue for apparel manufacturers of Bangladesh who are reeling from order cancellations and downswings of exports in the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to figures by the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), PPEs, including masks, gloves, and gowns, have fetched $11.58 million in earnings in the 11 months between July 2019 and May 2020. A good quantity has been shipped in June this year, but the latest official data is yet to be available.

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) data says there are 33 companies who are making and preparing PPE for export to meet global demand.  

The largest shipment was by the Beximco Group which exported 6.5 million medical gowns to US brand Hanes.

“As the spread of Covid-19 has bloomed into a pandemic, it has become clear that there is a desperate need for PPE to keep medical professionals and the general public safe. Beximco has proudly joined the fight against the global pandemic by moving swiftly to add manufacturing capabilities in PPE items such as gowns, masks, and coveralls,” said Beximco CEO and Group Director Syed Naved Husain.

He added that Covid-19 has changed how the world works, and Beximco had to urgently respond. 

“In just two months, we have unleashed our world-class manufacturing, technical, and design talent to switch over and start making PPE to help increase the supply of items which are urgently needed in Bangladesh and worldwide,” he said.

He also said Bangladesh is well positioned to become a new hub for PPE manufacturing.

SM Khaled, managing director of Snowtex, told Dhaka Tribune: “There are huge prospects for PPE products and queries from global buyers are increasing gradually.  We have supplied face masks worth $2.6 million to a French buyer.”

They are also working on producing 100,000 items of PPE for Marks and Spencer (M&S), who are providing them to several organizations as part of their social service activities, said Khaled.

“New orders for medical textiles is an opportunity for manufacturers who were facing trouble due to shortages of work orders,” he added.

Abdullah Hil Rakib, managing director of the TEAM Group, said: “PPEs are special and technical products and demand has peaked due to the outbreak of Covid-19. It needs certification from the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), and the US government is helping us to this end.  

“Although we have produced PPE, it is not just for commercial purposes. We will go for export from September for European buyers and there are queries from other importers,” said Rakib, also a director of BGMEA.

The products will be made as per the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO), he added.  

Challenges for new products

“We did not produce this type of product before and it is very technical and sensitive. It needs recognition from the US FDA and other organizations for authenticity and quality,” said Khaled.

“Testing facilities and technical expertise are a challenge right now, but the manufacturers have recognition and certification,” he added.  

As of now, there are testing labs for level three PPE in the country. Level four products need to be tested in countries like China.

“The government and the existing lab service providers should come forward with the latest testing facilities to capitalize on the emerging opportunity of exports,” Khaled continued.

Most of the fabric and other materials are imported, but some Bangladeshi manufacturers have developed the fabrics, he added.

Bangladeshi manufacturers claim to have developed antiviral fabric 

Two Bangladeshi fabrics manufacturers - APS Group, and Zaber and Zubair Fabrics – claim to have developed an antiviral and antibacterial fabric that can kill the novel coronavirus.  

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken up the globe with unprecedented health risks. None of us are sure when it will go away. People have to live while coping with the virus,” Hasib Uddin, chairman of APS Group, told Dhaka Tribune.

“Considering people’s health safety and the sustainability of the fashion industry amid the Covid-19 pandemic, we have developed antibacterial and antiviral treated knit fabric in collaboration with Swiss textile company HeiQ, and Zaber and Zubair Fabrics,” said Hasib.

“We have already developed a two-layer washable face-mask using the fabric. On the top layer of the mask, there are antiviral and antibacterial, as well as water repellent properties. Water droplets cannot penetrate the top layer and virus or bacteria are killed immediately,” he claimed.

“The inner layer has a water repellent element which prevents droplets from going out when the wearer sneezes. This way, the mask protects the wearer as well as others,” he added.

Tools for diversification

“Since, we are mostly dependent on a few items and basic goods, going on to medical products will help to diversify goods,” Khondaker Golam Moaqzzem Research Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, told Dhaka Tribune.

The overall demand will depend on the Covid-19 situation, but the demand for PPE will always be there in the medical sector, he explained.

He urged the government and people concerned to come up with initiatives to develop technical expertise for PPE production, while also looking into other areas for exploration.