Winning a war has a lot to do with what happens in times of peace. It is for this reason that armies spend so much time preparing, even though they may never go to war in their lifetime.

The same case appears to be similar to what is happening with the response coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

While money is available in many parts of the world, the equipment needed for testing, treatment, and public health services seems to be in short supply. This is even more complicated by the fact that the first country to be hit, China, is a global manufacturing hub for the whole world.

With a shortage of supplies, the best solution is to start manufacturing the needed materials where possible. Countries are trying to make testing kits, personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, ventilators, and other needed equipment. Hospitals are trying to increase their bed capacity and even hire more people.
Unfortunately, it is hard to set up things and get supplies flowing within a short time. This is because the capacity to produce needs to be there fast, and it cannot be ramped up quickly.

Kenya has been able to start producing face masks and PPEs within a very short time, and this is because of the industrial capacity that exists. In terms of textiles, Kenya has a vibrant industry that majorly supplies the US market with clothes under the AGOA partnership. These are the factories that are being repurposed to make masks and PPEs, and the country is assured that once peak production is attained, there shall be a steady supply. At the moment, one factory is able to produce 30,000 masks every day.

Can all other countries do the same? Not easy. If a country does not have a thriving textile industry, it would be hard to pull such a move. Unfortunately, Kenya does not produce most of the materials need to make the masks, as they are imported majorly from Asia. Luckily, they are not in short supply and thus the factories can keep rolling. Even the clothes that are made in Kenya have their raw cloths imported majorly from Asia but were they locally produced, the raw materials for masks would also be available locally.

There are also plans to start making ventilators in Kenya, something that is possible but hard to implement. This is because, without an advanced manufacturing industry especially in the area of pneumatic equipment, it would be hard to start production quickly and start rolling out quality ventilators. The testing involved, skilled labor needed and the length of the learning curve would not make it a realistic move for a short-term solution.

Countries that have established manufacturing industries are able to move quickly into making ventilators, but the process is quite slow. In the US, General Motors, Ford and Tesla are to start making ventilators, but even with that, it will take time. For countries that have not been into manufacturing, an attempt to make ventilators would do well for national pride and long-term planning, but terrible for meeting immediate needs. Whoever has been making those devices is the best place to scale up and make more.

The lesson here is that having a robust manufacturing industry helps build the potential for the unexpected. It calls for countries to look at manufacturing not only from an economic perspective but as a way of building skills and resilience to survive the unexpected. The unexpected could be war, trade sanctions or even a disease outbreak like it is happening now.

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