By Gary Seidman
Nigerian manufacturer Wemy has a product line focused on hygiene and personal care products, including baby and adult diapers, menstrual pads, baby wipes, and underlay bed towel pads for hospitals. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Wemy secured a grant from Mastercard Foundation and sought to utilize its technical knowhow and supply chains to produce face masks for healthcare workers, first responders, and other frontline workers who address the medical needs of vulnerable populations. Wemy installed its first facemask manufacturing machinery and began production of surgical face masks for the Nigerian market in October 2020.
Manufacturing facemasks required Wemy to increase imports of nonwoven materials, which is the raw material it imports to make many of its other products. Importing materials, however, is not only costly, but can also leave manufacturers vulnerable to supply chain disruptions such as what happened when COVID-19 slowed transportation and production. “In this part of the world, costs [of raw materials] are everything and most things are imported. To enable us to reduce the costs of our production and get our goods to the population at a lower price, [we needed to produce materials ourselves] and that meant further investment,” said Paul Adedoyin Odunaiya, Wemy’s managing director. Wemy is working on a homegrown solution — manufacturing its own nonwoven materials by developing the first-of-its-kind nonwoven manufacturing production line in Western Africa. “It is a perfect fit for us because 40 percent of all our raw material currently is nonwoven,” Odunaiya said.
Getting a new plant up and running requires a lot of technical know-how that Wemy doesn’t yet have, and that’s where IFC stepped in. IFC’s Global PPE advisory program, launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and funded by UK Aid, is aimed at helping manufacturers in emerging markets develop or improve personal protective equipment production. IFC, working with Gerber Technologies, is providing technical assistance to help Wemy build a financially viable facility in Nigeria to manufacture nonwoven materials for its facemask business. IFC’s support will strengthen Wemy’s supply chains and boost its technological knowhow, all of which contribute to the economy’s development.
“We already have a face-mask machine that produces about 800 pieces a minute, or almost 5 million face-masks per month. The masks’ production could easily double in volume, once the new plant is up and running,” Odunaiya said. “Investing in nonwoven production provides a lot of protection — a hedge against long lead times and foreign exchange risks. And PPEs are essential now to protect front line workers.”
In many developing countries, demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, and gowns exceeds supply.
IFC is working with partners to increase the production of PPE to meet these critical needs.
Learn more at www.ifc.org/ppe