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Lab-Supply Shortages Among a Global Pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic caused all kinds of shortages in the market, mainly due to the disruption of manufacturing and distribution channels. But shortages of lab equipment like sterile gloves and other basics may continue even after supply chains are restored. Scientists across the world have been having a difficult time securing lab supplies as the pandemic has caused a surge in demand for testing equipment.

Shortages of gloves, centrifuge tubes, micropipettes, and other supplies have caused many projects to slow down or entirely stop, though researchers have been trying to find solutions and alternative ways. In the UK, the NHS spoke about supply issues with refrigerators, pipette tips, gloves, and other products. One surgical glove shortage was due to an increased demand incompatible with production and delays in sterilizing and packaging. In late 2020, the global demand for gloves exceeded supply by 200 billion. The situation was further exacerbated when the world’s largest producer of gloves, Top Glove, had to shut down some factories because of a corona outbreak among the workers.

Some labs have also been reporting a shortage of lab animals. Pharmaceutical companies in the US have been struggling to find the rhesus monkeys. A surge in demand for the monkey for vaccine testing combined with a ban on importing wildlife from China caused the shortage, which then led to some lab projects coming to a stop.

Scientists and researchers can have to wait for weeks for instruments to arrive, setting them way back of the schedule. Product shortages can mean researchers have to spend hours on end just planning their experiments to ensure the equipment is not used in vain. It has also caused weeks’ worth of delay for scientists working at important research centers.

The breakdown in scientific supply chains can be observed all over the world. In Africa, the breaking down of supply chains has made nations see the danger in relying on foreign equipment. Africa is not alone in relying on foreign supply chains. The US imports most of its medical gloves from Malaysia. In September 2020, the US increased its gloves import by 17% as compared to the last year, but it was still not enough to meet the demand.

The shortages have caused labs to adopt a reduce and reuse motto. Tubes and centrifuge tubes are being reused when circumstances allow, as well as gloves for non-sterile work. Labs are also cooperating with each other to exchange equipment as needed.

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