Fake face masks push licensed companies out of the market

Monday July 6 2020

mask

Several firms licensed to manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment have stopped production after losing business to competition from informal producers. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA  

JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE
By JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE
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Firms licensed to manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment in the fight against coronavirus have stopped due fake products that flooded the market.

Concerns have also been raised over use of facemasks multiple times after their stipulated disposal deadline.

The problem highlights potential health risks and a setback to efforts to control the spread of coronavirus infections, which prompted the government to enforce mandatory facemasks use by the public.

For instance, more than 80 firms licensed by Food and Drug Authority (FDA) to manufacture approved respiratory protective materials had been tasked to produce a combined stock of 12 million to meet nationwide public demand.

However, those who spoke to Rwanda Today indicate that five million into production, the demand dipped with those who did not suspend or decelerate production now counting more losses than their peers.

Most facemasks worn by members of the public are estimated to be sourced informally through unaccredited tailors who give licensed companies a run for their money.

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Companies in Kigali for instance, say they have been grappling with 3 million stock of unsold facemasks with estimated value of over Rwf1 billion after sales declined from 1 million to around 20,000 masks per week.

“For us, we quickly slowed production. We currently produce only when there is a client who has placed an order. They are usually institutions and companies like banks and schools,” said Saidi Hitimana, head of Ufaco Vlisco, one of the licensed companies.

“We cannot go into competition with the informal tailors given the cost of production involved and the required specifications in terms of percentage of cotton, polyester, and the layers, in addition to packaging. For them all these are disregarded,” he said.

Selected customers

Like in Kigali, manufacturers in rural areas and secondary cities also reported only producing on-demand that usually come from selected institutional customers in the public and private sector.

The Rubavu town-based Co-operative de Couture Berwa Gisenyi (COCOBEGI) for instance puts the total volume of facemasks sold at only 6,000 pieces since it started operations because over 1 million targeted buyers in the border area and the five surrounding Districts source the materials informally.

Francois Byandagara, head of co-operative said that the market was full of a variety of informally made single-cloth facemasks selling at as low as Rwf200 a piece, making it hard for the only licensed firm in the area to operate.

“We are now focusing on our usual garment business. We only dedicate a few hours to making facemasks in case there is demand from institutions,”  he said.

Similar concerns were cited by the management of the Northern Province-based Burera Garments which initially supplied the facemasks to the District pharmacies for distribution but later had challenges finding buyers.

Diane Mukasahaha, director at DIKAM Ltd and chairperson of Rwanda Apparel Manufacturing Group told Rwanda Today that representatives of all affected manufacturing companies were expected to meet this week to tally the exact losses incurred and appeal for government intervention.

They indicated that in addition to cracking down on informal facemask makers, institutions and non-governmental organizations’ health interventions need to prioritize communities’ access to protective materials, while subsidies could be extended towards making them affordable for low-income and poor families nationwide.

Rwanda’s Food and Drug Authority (FDA) had not responded to our request for comment by press time.

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