Until recently, “PPE” was an obscure acronym for many people, but now it has become a vital commodity globally. Today, with the realities of COVID-19, health workers around the world are experiencing a troubling shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – a mix of items including gloves, mask, aprons, and goggles that can help prevent  disease transmission in health care settings. This shortage puts health workers in harm's way while trying to respond to  the unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only do PPE shortages put health workers at risk, but they also increase the risk of exposure and transmission for their families and their patients. Without PPE, essential services suffer and might be curtailed, leaving people without access to critical health services.

As Malawi’s COVID-19 case count began to increase, health workers throughout the country faced severe PPE shortages. In April, health workers went on strike, refusing to work until the government provided them with PPE. At some hospitals, patients were forced to return home as a result.

When the Government of Malawi received a consignment of PPE from other donors, the USAID-funded Organized Network of Services for Everyone’s (ONSE) Health Activity, under guidance from the Ministry of Health, distributed the donation to health facilities throughout the country in less than 48 hours, so they could continue their work.

Global supply shortages, international transport challenges, customs clearance, and other issues make getting PPE into countries challenging.

Rapid in-country distribution is not simple: storage limitations, budget constraints, and distribution hurdles must all be overcome – and swiftly. In this case, immediate delivery was essential, both because health workers needed the equipment urgently, and because sufficient storage space is lacking. 

The distribution led by ONSE partner, VillageReach, involved traveling over 700 miles in a 48-hour period. Deliveries to areas with COVID-19 cases were prioritized, so that health workers there could continue their work. In total, PPE was distributed to 25 district and central hospitals.

The Head of Pharmaceuticals in the Health Technical Support Services Directorate, Godfrey Kadewere, said: “This is an exciting development in the face of what looks like an insurmountable challenge. Thanks to USAID, we have supplies flowing to health facilities and lives are being saved.”


ONSE is USAID’s integrated flagship program for health in Malawi and supports the government in its efforts to reduce maternal, newborn, and child morbidity and mortality. The program is leveraging its experience, district footprint in 16 of Malawi’s 28 districts, and engagement with the government to support Malawi’s COVID-19 response on multiple fronts.

VillageReach van delivers PPE to hard-to-reach areas in Malawi.
Hope Ngwira (VillageReach for USAID)
Malawi Stories