Dzulfiqar Fathur Rahman, Jakarta – Six Indonesian manufacturers of personal protective equipment (PPE) are preparing to export coveralls as they meet international standards for the product, amid an excess in national supplies during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The companies have passed quality tests for water resistance and hydrostatic pressure set by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC), called AATCC 42 and 127, respectively. Their products also qualify for the protective clothing standard set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) under ISO 16604.
"Today, six of 16 domestic producers have been certified as they prepare to export and meet the global demand," Industry Minister Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmita said in a virtual press conference on Thursday.
Local PPE producers currently can provide a total of 648 million coveralls every year, which far exceeds the annual domestic consumption of 11.3 million, according to Agus, a Golkar Party politician.
The export plans come after the Trade Ministry recently revoked an export ban on healthcare products, allowing manufacturers to ship abroad simple masks, N-95 masks, coveralls, surgical gowns and raw materials for face masks amid domestic oversupply.
Meanwhile, the country's total exports were down 28.95 percent year-on-year (yoy) in May at US$10.53 billion, the lowest level since July 2016, due to reduced shipments of coal, coffee, palm oil, as well as oil and gas.
Many countries, including Indonesia, demand continuous supply of protective gear to fight the pandemic, which has infected 9.2 million people worldwide and more than 50,000 people at home.
Apart from coveralls, the minister said Indonesia could now produce 3 million N-95 masks and 4.7 billion surgical masks per annum, which also far surpassed estimated domestic needs at 172 million masks every year.
Production began to soar in April as many textile companies switched from fashion to PPE in response to prior supply shortages.
"We feel confident that our national industries are firm in facing challenges arising from the global pandemic," said the minister. "This is clearly seen in key industrial sectors that help Indonesia tackle the [COVID-19] disease, such as medical devices, consumables and pharmaceuticals."
Despite the industry's success in avoiding PPE shortages, many health workers using the products have been complaining about the quality of locally produced PPE.
"While the majority of the products have passed [tests for] medical standards, many doctors are complaining that the coveralls are too heavy and uncomfortable. This is the reason why we could not take in all the locally made PPE products," Health Ministry crisis center head Budi Sylvana said on June 9.
He added that many small hospitals and clinics also refused to use washable PPE and preferred instead to purchase disposable products, as they did not have the systems in place to disinfect PPE.
"There are cases of COVID-19 infection among medical workers caused by unsterile PPE. Not all hospitals have the ability to sterilize the PPE correctly," he said.