Updated: May 30
The COVID-19 pandemic and unpredictability across global trade channels have exposed the hardships in procuring and deploying a steady supply of essential goods within the Canadian healthcare industry. The sourcing and deployment of vaccines and PPE are prime examples of such a dynamic. The absence of infrastructure to manufacture essential goods has placed Canada in a sup-optimal position to procure critical products in a timely manner. Canada has a long and strong history in international trade and must continue to engage in the global supply chain; however, it is perhaps equally or more important to ensure that Canada has a globally competitive, home-grown manufacturing sector – especially for medical supplies and devices. Initiatives to promote local medtech manufacturing and innovation will not only drive immense economic prosperity but also provide Canada strong footing in the face of future challenges.
Manufacturing Healthcare Essentials Locally
The pandemic has highlighted the need for a foundational shift in values to foster a strong and diverse manufacturing and supply chain sector that can be accelerated in critical times of need. Recent efforts to manufacture locally are commendable, as Canada has set up domestic facilities to manufacture both vaccines and PPE in response to the pandemic. While these measures are helpful, it is important to take a step further in prioritizing local manufacturing and development of medical supplies.
Proactive vs. Reactive
Acute shortages of goods have incurred a positive, but reactive response from governments, including Canada’s. Recently, insufficient supply of PPE has created detrimental ripple effects exposing healthcare staff and the general public to an increased risk of infection during the Omicron-induced wave. In response to nursing unions’ public demands, the Canadian government has successfully sourced more N95 masks for hospitals, and expedited local manufacturing. Through collaborations with the Canadian and Ontario governments, 3M, a globally trusted mask manufacturer, opened a facility in Ontario to deliver masks to Canadians more effectively. Introducing a facility and mobilizing manufacturing quickly has resulted in such masks becoming immediately available.
While efforts have been effective, mobilizing resources in response to an acute demand surge event or supply interruption is unsustainable.
A reactive healthcare supply chain is vulnerable to the pressures of acute surge events which ultimately lead to supply interruptions, delays in sources, and hoarding. To be truly prepared for demand surges, Canada must prioritize and incentivize the establishment and growth of medical device manufacturing locally so that it can be scaled up in a time of need. While international partnerships are certainly beneficial to build a stronger supply chain, Canada must complement this with a prosperous local healthcare manufacturing industry to support sustainability and security and foster economic growth. In the era of globalization, it is also important that such an investment in local manufacturing and supply chains result in a locally and internationally competitive industry.
Canada is very well on its way to becoming a global healthcare leader. The infrastructure is available to think holistically about domestic and international policy measures that could increase supply chain resiliency. It is pertinent that Canada can independently deliver and manufacture essential medical goods such as vaccines, PPE, and medical devices. By increasingly incentivizing procurement of locally produced healthcare products, industry and governments can organize mutually beneficial supply chain systems, all while keeping the public safe.