When COVID-19 first appeared, there was hope that it would pass in a few months. But, as the situation worsened, one thing became clear, the lives of postal workers around the world, especially in least developed countries, were in danger, said Sandra Bonfigli of the International Bureau’s Procurement Unit goods and service management.Less Developed Countries (LDCs) needed help to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE), so the Development and Cooperation Directorate (DCDEV) jumped into action, eventually forming a project called COVID-PPE to deliver masks to LDCs.
“Human capital is at the heart of the postal sector,” Sandra Bonfigli said. “That is why we decided to waste no time setting up this project to provide PPE to 36 of the most vulnerable countries.”
By the end of February, the DCDEV began its outreach—contacting LDCs to assess their needs and reaching out to potential donors to help fund COVID-PPE.
The DCDEV also formed a partnership with the United Nations Office for Project Services, which was already buying PPE for other organizations, to purchase masks for the project.
On 10 April 2020 an agreement between the two organizations was signed and the collaboration was launched on 23 April.
China, France, Japan and Switzerland helped fund COVID-PPE, which was rounded out by a contribution from the UPU development cooperation fund. With a budget of about CHF 683,000, COVID-PPE secured and delivered 1.2 million masks to 36 member countries, including Angola, Nepal and Togo.
“When we saw the idea taking shape and turning into concrete help for our member countries, nothing could be more satisfying,” Bonfigli said.
While the DCDEV is used to operating in crises such as tsunamis and hurricanes, the pandemic brought new challenges.
The greatest difficulty was competing with governments who were buying PPE for hospital staff, Bonfigli said. This pushed mask prices higher than originally thought.
Disruptions in the logistics networks also increased delivery costs to about a third of the COVID-PPE project budget.
Despite the challenges, the first deliveries arrived by the end of July, and the last was completed in March 2021.
The COVID-PPE executive report says that, of the 26 countries who answered a survey about the project, 22 countries, or 84 percent, said they were still in need of further support from the UPU.
“New projects are under way, analyses are being conducted in the regions by the DCDEV’s regional programmes to identify the needs of the LDCs,” Bonfigli said. “Everything will of course depend on how the pandemic situation develops, but we will be ready to act as the need arises.”