The price of protective masks has tripled in Nairobi over the past month on increased demand from local pharmacies and hospitals as well as dealers exporting the gear following the coronavirus outbreak.
A manufacturer of the masks, Nairobi Enterprises Limited (NEL), said that the price of a box containing 50 units of the protective gear had surged from Sh500 to the current Sh1,700 on the wholesale market.
This means the wholesale price of a single mask has increased from Sh10 to Sh34 over the period with dealers saying that the retail cost will hit Sh50 in coming days.
Kenya has been on high alert over the possible outbreak of the deadly disease with 27 cases reported in Africa and Algeria the worst-affected with 17 cases, 16 of them in the same family.
This has triggered a surge in demand for protective masks, with Kenya’s sole factory and distributors scrambling to fill orders from hospitals and pharmacies.
“The price increase is inevitable because of the demand and for the fact that we are now forced to source for raw materials from India, Turkey and the US. Previously, we relied on cheaper raw materials from China,” said Sanjay Purang, a director of NEL, Kenya’s sole manufacturer of protective masks.
Mr Purang said that the cost of a box of the protective masks was Sh500 at the start of the year and then climbed to Sh1, 200 following demand from exporters eyeing the Chinese market to current Sh1, 700 on the back of orders from local pharmacies and hospitals.
Local dealers had stepped up exports of the masks to China where demand had outstripped supplies, sparking a surge in prices.
The virus, which first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has killed more than 3,000 people and infected over 96,000 people in 60 countries. It spreads through droplets from coughs and sneezes. Fears of infection have sent people rushing to pharmacies.
As the disease spreads, many pharmacists in Europe and Asia say that they have run out of hygienic masks and hand sanitisers, and many people have resorted to online sites where prices have shot up.
Online retail giant Amazon is struggling to contain rampant price-gouging by sellers capitalising on the fear surrounding the spread of the coronavirus.
Hand sanitisers and respiratory masks were in some cases being sold on the site on Monday at a more than 2,000 percent mark-up, compared to normal retail prices.
Kenya on Monday banned export of respirator masks following the outbreak of the disease.
Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) CEO Jonah Manjari on Monday said the government had banned local manufacturers and distributors from exporting N95 and 3 ply surgical masks “to ensure that the country has enough stocks as part of its emergency plan.”
Dr Manjari also revealed that the government had also placed orders for emergency materials and medicines that the country would require in the wake of a coronavirus outbreak.
NEL exported about two million masks to China in February alone. The firm has had to ramp up production, which has seen it running its Limuru-based factory for 24 hours a day, from the normal single eight-hour shift.
The firm said that it has grown its daily production of = face masks tenfold from about 20,000 a day to 200,000 on increased local demand.
“We are producing 200,000 3-ply masks a day but we can increase capacity to 250,000 but this may impact on quality, said Mr Purang during an interview with the Business Daily.
Many countries rushed to protect their supply of masks on Wednesday as panic buying, hoarding and theft spread over fears of the deadly epidemic, with global health officials warning that stocks of protective gear were rapidly dwindling.
The disease, which first emerged in China, is appearing in new countries almost every day, with Iran, Italy and South Korea facing growing caseloads.