Procurement of critical medical supplies for the Ebola response was complicated by the fact that partners did not know exactly which products were needed — i.e. which types of gloves or specialized supplies, such as hazmat suits, etc.


When needs were known, procurement was at times challenging due to volatile global demand. Manufacturers experienced an unprecedented volume of orders, and some hospitals in countries in the Global North were stocking up excessively, disrupting the availability of items across the market. Responding to a major health crisis is always challenging, but it is even more so if risks to supply lines are not taken into consideration sufficiently. The supply of latex gloves, for example, is particularly sensitive because 90 percent of the world’s supply is manufactured in one country, Malaysia.

There is a need, therefore, to pre-identify a list of critical supplies for potential pandemics, and agree on specifications.

WHO, with the support of the Logistics Cluster, has been working on a detailed list of the top 60 critical items essential for the medical response to ten potential pandemic risks.

WHO criteria and likely response scenarios were used to specify and quantify the items. The list of critical items will assist the collection of information about sourcing and lead times, and help to determine the required balance between virtual stocks and strategic reserves. It is important to emphasize that this exercise is specifically focused on potential Public Health Emergencies of International Concern (PHEIC) and not on the supply chain for usual health services or recurrent emergencies.

Requirements for each of the potential pandemics vary in terms of control and response measures to be implemented in the affected country. For each disease, existing standard lists and previous outbreak response experiences were taken into account when compiling a list of critical items.

The list of top 60 response items does not include products that are covered by other international frameworks. For example, the production and supply of influenza vaccines are covered by the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework, so the influenza vaccine is not included in the list. WHO’s critical items list for the PSC focuses on products that are not well-considered by other agreements.