Face protection masks could inject at least US$1.5-billion annually into the African economy

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DouglasBoateng_100.jpgOn 27 June 2020, MarketWatch reported that the global disposable face mask market size was anticipated to reach US$23.81-billion by 2027.

On 30 June, Goldman Sachs released an extensive economic analysis of why the wearing of a face mask is a must. By studying the link between coronavirus infections and mask mandates in US states and overseas, the reputable global investment bank estimated a national directive could cut the daily growth rate of confirmed cases by one percentage point to just 0.6%.

According to the bank, the reduction could prevent the need for lockdowns that could wipe 5% off of US gross domestic product (GDP). The implications of not wearing a mask and the associated health and socio-economic consequences are no different in emerging and developing economies. The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and associated COVID-19 pandemic has, however, resulted in the emergence of a face protection mask (FPM) industry.

In Africa, this rapidly-evolving sector could contribute approximately US$1.5-billion annually to the continent's economy. This is according to supply chain and industrialisation expert, Prof Douglas Boateng.

"This high demand during these unprecedented times is largely a result of the growing need for personal protective equipment (PPE) spurred on by the global coronavirus pandemic as well as the latest mandate by the governments regarding the use of FPMs at all times in especially public places", said Boateng.

US presidential advisors Dr Anthony Fauci and Dr Deborah Birx; Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; leading scientists, including George Rutherford, UC San Francisco (UCSF) Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics; Dr Nsiah Asare, Ghana presidential advisor on health; Dr Ashish Jha, Harvard Global Health Institute; Prof William Kwabena Ampofo, Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research; Prof Erin Bromage, University of Massachusetts; Prof Jonathan Reiner, George Washington University; and Prof Stephen Powis, National Medical Director for England in the National Health Service; as well as world leaders, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, Premier Angela Merkel and President Nana Akufo-Addo, continue to encourage the wearing of face masks to reduce the risk of spreading and contracting coronavirus.

According to Goldman Sachs, many European countries now have mask mandates. In most of East Asia, it is generally acceptable to wear masks whilst sick or during an outbreak of a disease. The acceptance of masks as a means to minimise the potential spread of a disease in Africa is also rapidly changing.

According to Boateng, widening demand for quality reusable cloth-based FPMs over the next decade will open up opportunities for the local development and supply of these essential PPE. "Every crisis presents opportunities for visionary business and political leaders. SARS-CoV-2 cases in Ghana and across the globe have prompted the need for an increased supply of FPMs as a means to prevent the spread and reduce the number of infections. This growing need to contain the virus as well as rising health awareness among Ghanaians is driving market growth in this area."

A new report by Grand View Research indicates that a global compound annual growth rate of 53% is expected over the forecast period. This prediction could have a significant impact on the opportunities that are available to the Ghanaian textile industry as well as to smaller and medium-sized enterprises operating in this sector.

With the FPM industry expected to more than double over the next 10 years, Boateng has urged African businesses to embrace the opportunities that have emerged and lead the way in FPM production and supply in the region. "With a share of 33.9% in 2019, the Asia Pacific region currently dominates the disposable face mask market. The market is also controlled by a few key players. These include the likes of Uvex, the Polison Corporation, the Kimberley Clark Corporation, RPB Safety LLC, Mine Safety Appliances (MSA), Moldex, KOWA, the SAS Safety Corp, Alpha Pro Tech, the 3M Company, Honeywell, Bullard, the Delta Plus Group, the Gerson Company, ILC Dover, Intech Safety Private Limited and Shigematsu Works Company Limited. Via various agents, many of these companies export their FPMs into Ghana. Ghanaian businesses should be looking to gain some of this market share."

"The latest statistics put Africa's population at 1.1 billion people. At least 50% of the population require FPMs. This means that over 550 million Africans are in need of FPMs. Each of these 550 million people will need at least three masks, equating to approximately 1.55 billion masks. With an average two-layered cloth-based FPM costing US$1, the market for these PPE could reach US$1.55-billion annually", added Boateng.

According to Boateng, enhanced FPM production and supply could not only have a direct impact on the region's textile industry but could also have significant spin-offs in other areas. "Hundreds of thousands of jobs could be created through initiatives focussed on FPMs and other PPE production. Women and the youth could particularly benefit from access to jobs in the emerging sector and further opportunities for self-employment could also arise."

Commenting on the growing opportunities in this sector, His Excellency Wamkele Mene, the Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), noted that demand for FPMs could have a significant impact on economic development and sectoral growth in the coming years. "As more and more people become attuned to the need for FPMs, opportunities for regional production and distribution of disposable as well as reusable face masks will increase. The AfCFTA is in full support of the use of FPMs to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and is mindful of the impact that growth in this sector could have for regional-wide job creation and economic empowerment."

While opportunities in the sector look promising, Boateng warned that the medium- to long-term economic sustainability of the FPM industry is dependent on African government support and policy development. "There must be a strategy and implementation plan for the entire supply chain. AfCFTA and African governments must initially protect the sector to ensure that there is no dumping and price undercutting by suppliers from outside the continent. Through innovative subsidies there could even be guaranteed off takes for schools and universities, among others."

Douglas Boateng is Professor Extraordinaire for supply and value chain management in Africa at the Unisa Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL).

His Excellency Wamkele Mene is Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Unisa Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL)

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