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7 Apr 2020

A Supplier Refused To Fill A Face Mask Order For An Australian Abortion Provider Because They're For "Health Professionals"

Exclusive: Marie Stopes Australia says it only has two weeks worth of face masks left as orders are cancelled in the coronavirus pandemic.

Peter Cade / Getty Images

Australia's largest abortion provider says its supply of face masks and hand sanitiser for carrying out surgical abortions will only last two more weeks after a number of orders from private personal protective equipment (PPE) providers were cancelled or refused in the coronavirus pandemic.

In one instance, a private company cancelled an order from Marie Stopes Australia (MSA) on the basis it was reserving supplies for "health professionals".

The Australian government has also refused to supply MSA with PPE and instead suggested the organisation go to Chemist Warehouse to try and source masks.

MSA delivers around 50,000 sexual and reproductive health services annually, including abortions, vasectomies and appointments where people can access contraception. The organisation has tried for five weeks to order essential PPE.

"Many PPE suppliers do not consider abortion to be healthcare," the organisation's chief executive Jamal Hakim told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday.

"Today a large supplier has cancelled our paid and outstanding order and told us that other healthcare professionals are a greater priority. Over the past month, private suppliers have either refused to take orders or cancelled orders from MSA."

The health department's National Medical Stockpile, a reserve of medical equipment held in secret locations across the country, told MSA on Friday the supplies were being prioritised for public hospitals, GP practices and community pharmacies.

Instead, the department suggested, MSA could go to pharmacy chain Chemist Warehouse, Baxter Healthcare or Aspen Medical.

Hakim said that public hospitals are referring patients directly to MSA clinics. "We cannot provide healthcare unless we have access to PPE," he said.

Owaki / Getty Images

On Tuesday, Clifford Hallam Healthcare (CHH) cancelled MSA's order. The email, seen by BuzzFeed News, says the company is unable to fulfil MSA's orders and has cancelled back orders following a request from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

"We have been requested to reserve our supplies for health professionals as they are the first priority," the email from CHH reads. "We have had no option other to cancel your back orders for all masks."

MSA is calling on anyone in Australia who can assist them and other sexual and reproductive health services with access to PPE that has been approved by the TGA.

"We are calling for support to access the National Medical Stockpile, we are calling for private suppliers who can deliver immediately, we are calling for public donations of TGA approved surgical face masks and hand gel," he said. "Abortion care is a time-bound service that cannot be delayed."

The news comes a fortnight after multiple state health departments confirmed abortion was an essential, not elective, health service following a report from BuzzFeed News that up to 80 women on surgical abortion lists around Australia could be left in limbo as doctors fought to be exempt from new coronavirus travel restrictions requiring self-isolation.

As of 2pm on Tuesday, Australia had 5,844 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 44 recorded deaths. Across the country there are just under 100 people in intensive care units, and fewer than 40 on ventilators.


Gina Rushton is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Gina Rushton at gina.rushton@buzzfeed.com.

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