Shocking report: Israeli Health Ministry turns down offer of 3 million medical masks

The Ministry of Health rejected an offer to buy 3 million medical masks and other protective equipment from a medical supply import company.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Israel’s Walla! News reported on Sunday that the Ministry of Health rejected an offer to buy 3 million N95 masks, the most effective mask for preventing coronavirus transmission.

It also rejected other protective equipment from a medical supply import company.

After viewing correspondence between the Ministry of Health and the medical supply company, Walla! News reported that the Ministry of Health turned down the offer 15 minutes after receiving it, without raising a counteroffer.

The report comes on the heels of complaints by medical teams that they lack adequate equipment to protect themselves while they treat patients on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ministry of Health has admitted that there is a serious shortage of such equipment. Forty-two Israeli medical personnel have already been diagnosed with the coronavirus and at least 1,181 have entered self-quarantine due to fear they’ve been infected by a patient at their workplace.

“In light of the situation, we and many other importers have leveraged our connections all over the world to locate medical equipment and send it to Israel as quickly as possible,” a source at the medical supply import company told Walla! News.

“Because there is a global shortage of virus-related equipment, such as N95 masks and protective clothing, every time that we find goods that can be purchased, there is a very small window of opportunity to make the purchase before someone else in the world buys it.”

He continued, “Whenever we were able to get access to quality equipment, we contacted clinics, hospitals, and the Ministry of Health to offer them the equipment with the fastest import possible, arriving in Israel within seven days, but we received slow, foot-dragging reactions and blanket refusals.

“Their only explanation was that they have ‘their own suppliers they work with’ and, in most cases, they didn’t even ask us what the price was.”

Production of N95 masks within Israel is expected to begin in May. According to a statement released by Sion Medical, which was contracted by the Ministry of Health for the project and expects to produce two million masks monthly, the production line will be ready by April 15.

However, in the first month, the factory expects to deliver 800,000 masks and in the following month, a million and a half masks. This falls short of the amount needed by Israeli medical teams, and it’s unclear how the Ministry of Health plans to make up the difference.

While the import companies are not offering the protective medical equipment for free, one importer emphasized that he was operating from a place of solidarity for the medical teams rather than economic benefit for his company.

“When I see the numbers of medical staff who have been infected and hear about their Whatsapp groups where they’re trying to buy medical masks and equipment for themselves, it just breaks my heart.

“I personally know some doctors who spent thousands of dollars out of pocket buying masks and protective equipment. It’s very difficult for me to accept the slow-moving Ministry of Health, their sluggish efforts to procure protective medical equipment, and their non-cooperation with the private sector, which has a lot of power to assist in the struggle to bring this important equipment to Israel.”

He continued, “This is not the time to let bureaucracy get in the way. It’s time to be super efficient, work 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and take every offer of potential equipment from anywhere in the world seriously.

“We don’t expect the situation to change anytime soon, and as time passes, this type of equipment will continue to be highly sought-after and harder to obtain.”

Sunday morning, a Minister of Health official spoke to Walla! News, slamming the ministry’s response and the lack of protective equipment for medical teams. The official also stated that the shortages extend to other hospital units, like geriatric wards, that do not treat coronavirus patients.

“What exactly has the Ministry of Health been doing the last few years?” he said.

“Obviously, we can’t predict the coronavirus, but we do know that there are pandemics, and there was recently a measles outbreak. We do not live in a world where we can operate presuming situations like this won’t happen. Why aren’t their warehouses full of protective equipment? Why is there no inventory? It’s a huge problem.”

The Chairman of the Israeli Medical Association, Professor Zion Hagai, said that he had spoken to the director general of the Ministry of Health, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, who “promised that there would soon be deliveries of equipment to all hospitals, and that there was a large order coming from South Africa.”

The Ministry of Health has not yet responded to the report.