Face masks for sale in a store in Liquiça District (Image/Evaristo Soares Martins)

DILI, 1 April 2020 (TATOLI) – Pharmacies and other shops in Dili are reporting a looming shortage of face masks, as demand escalates worldwide in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Timor-Leste’s State of Emergency decree, which came into effect last Saturday night, obliges customers entering and store or business to wear a mask or face being turned away. Motorbike and scooter riders are also obliged to wear one.

Norberta da Silva Siqueira sells masks for 25 cents a-piece at KSF pharmacy, and said they’re quickly selling out of stock.

“The stock was old, we kept [it] in our warehouse, and we have prepared many masks in warehouse but when the [first] case of corona was confirmed positive, communities begun to buy up the masks,” she said.

KSF Pharmacy Manager, Norberta da Silva Siqueira (Image/Nelia Borges)

According to Ms Siqueira, the pharmacy has a direct contact with a company in Indonesia to import the masks. She said a fresh order was supposed to arrive this month.

“Currently we are ordering the masks, but [the stock] has not arrived yet. And besides, the cost of masks in Indonesia is escalating,” she said.

The pharmacy has also cooperated with the Ministry of Health’s procurement unit (the Autonomous Health Medicines and Equipment Service – SAMES) to secure supply. But Ms Siquiera said SAMES is also running out of personal protection equipment (PPE).

Executive Director of SAMES, Emélia de Jesus Alves Mendonça, said the unit has distributed PPE, including masks, gloves, glasses, clothing and disinfectants to health workers at the Guido Valadares National Hospital, as well as the health centres of Vera Cruz and Formosa which are treating suspected Covid-19 patients.

“We are striving to maintain cooperation with various international agencies. However, the stock is down, so we ask everyone to stay calm,” she said.

Ms Mendonça confirmed SAMES plans to boost its stocks, but the budget is limited. The government usually allocates $300,000 per month for PPE, and SAMES intended to borrow a further $100,000 from the next month’s budget to keep up with demand.

Odete Viegas da Silva. (Image/Egas Cristovão)

Director-General of Health Services, Odete Viegas da Silva, told reporters on Wednesday the Ministry of Health will “accelerate” procurement to help boost PPE supplies soon.

“We know that procurement and financial process is not easy; it takes time. So what we need is to secure the emergency [supplies] and there should be stock of equipment to attend to the emergency patients,” Ms Viegas said.

KM moves to head off medication shortfall

In January, SAMES revealed the ongoing impasse in the National Parliament over the 2020 General State Budget was severely limiting the volume of basic medications it could buy.

'Should you wear a mask? YES, if you are experiencing uneasiness in breathing, cough YES, while caring for persons with respiratory (breathing) symptoms YES, all health workers should while attending to persons with respiratory symptoms NOT required for general public without respiratory symptoms Timor-Leste'
Image/WHO Timor-Leste

The Council of Ministers this week approved a further $14 million to boost the stocks of drugs and personal protective equipment (PPE). In a statement, Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak said the move was in response to a request from the World Health Organisation.

Related news: Budget Roadblock is Reducing Supplies of Basic Medications

“After observing all the countries in the globe, many places were misled by the [drug] companies, [so] I want to review which companies will provide the drugs to us, they should have complete certificates, the drugs officially authorised by World Health Organisation as well. That is why we delayed [releasing funds],” Mr Matan Ruak said in a press release.

The medicines would be imported through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), he said.

In Spite government trough the Ministry of Health has established 350 health personnel and will hire more to fill all the municipalities include RAEOA.

UNDP Country Representative, Munkhtuya Altangerel (left) signs a procurement agreement with Foreign Minister, Dionísio da Costa Babo, on Wednesday (Image/UNDP)

Journalist: Nelia Borges, Felicidade Ximenes

Editor: Robert Baird, Agapito dos Santos

Translation: Nelia Borges

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