Masks have long been a part of everyday life for people all over the world. This is perhaps the most common element of protection against the spread of coronavirus. They are required to be worn on public transport, in shops, and other public places. And of course, medical masks are indispensable for doctors because they are most at risk of contracting COVID-19.
The DOZORRO project has been monitoring procurement for coronavirus fighting since the beginning of the pandemic. This time, we have investigated how the medical mask market has changed from last spring to today.
Types of masks
There are several types of masks. The simplest of them — fabric ones — are often homemade, and they protect a person the least. This type is followed by a medical disposable mask (surgical). It reduces the spread of airborne infections. As a rule, this is a three-layer mask that has a filter between the two outer layers of non-woven fabric.
The World Health Organization notes that although protective masks do not completely protect against COVID-19, they reduce the risk of contracting the virus. It is also important that they prevent excessive touching of the face, and this reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to the mucous membranes. Studies show that the effectiveness of the mask is higher the greater the distance between people. The optimal distance is 2 m or more, and not the usual 1-1.5 m.
There are also three types of respiratory masks, depending on the level of protection: FFP 1, FFP 2 and FFP 3. They are usually used by doctors or military personnel who are at the epicenter of events.
At the beginning of the pandemic, less attention was paid to the mask type — the main thing was to cover your nose and mouth with it. However, the approach to this issue is gradually changing. For example, the German government has introduced stricter requirements. Now wearing a simple cloth mask in public spaces is not enough — you must have at least a three-layer surgical or medical mask of the FFP2 protection standard.
How many masks were purchased for budget funds
We have selected all mask procurement from January 1, 2020, to May 5, 2021. During this period, 179 mln medical masks worth UAH 685.6 mln were purchased through Prozorro. Peak months were:
- August 2020 – 16.5 mln items were purchased
- September 2020 – 18.1 mln items
- December 2020 – 58.2 mln items
How prices for medical masks have changed
Before the start of the pandemic, budget institutions could easily buy medical masks through Prozorro for UAH 0.58-1.1. However, as we all remember, in March 2020 there was a sharp jump in prices. Suppliers sold medical masks for UAH 10 and sometimes 25–27 apiece. The median price during this month was UAH 1.6-15. Let us remind you that the median price is the one that is in the middle of the total distribution. You can use it to find the average value of the indicator, without distortions due to cases of abnormally high or low prices.
In April, compared to the previous month, the median price of a medical mask increased even more and already amounted UAH to 9.7-16.8. At that time, it was possible to observe a frenzied divergence of prices. The cheapest masks cost UAH 3 per item, while the most expensive ones cost 9 times more — UAH 27 per item. Probably, such a significant difference can be explained by the massive demand. At the same time, the risks of overpayments increased massively — there was no time to analyze the market, suppliers did not have enough goods, and procuring entities were ready to pay any money. However, this hype passed quite soon. Already in May, prices for medical masks began to decline. Then the median price was UAH 3.0-11.8.
This reduction in price continued in the following months. In June, the median price of a medical mask was UAH 6-11.1, in July — UAH 5.17-8.16, in August — UAH 4.07-7.53, and in September, it fell to UAH 3.3-6.89. The market came to order, and medical masks were no longer in short supply.
In the future, the median price also only declined. For example, at the end of 2020, it was UAH 2.13-3.79. And in April 2021, it reached the level of UAH 1.23-1.85 per item. Although median prices have not yet become the same as they were before the quarantine, we are confidently moving towards this.
The median price is also affected by the fact that despite the market having come to order, procuring entities continue to buy medical masks without auctions, when the transaction value exceeds UAH 50,000. They have the right to do so because masks are still on the list of the CMU’s resolution on COVID-19 procurement. In general, more than 98% of medical masks were purchased by procuring entities through non-competitive procedures (reporting on the concluded contract, negotiation procedure), in the E-catalog and upon request for price offers. Accordingly, less than 2% of such procurement were competitive.
At the same time, it was competition that allowed the procuring entities using the appropriate procedures to save budget funds. So, for example, in the pre-threshold procurement of the territorial social service center of the Obolonskyi District of Kyiv, 14 suppliers competed for being awarded, and the price of the mask decreased by more than 3 times — from UAH 2.3 to UAH 0.68. Moreover, 14 suppliers took part in the procurement of “MYKOLAIVHAZ.” Then the price of the mask decreased by 72% — from UAH 2 to 0.68 UAH. The Primary Health Care Center No. 1 of the Darnytskyi district of Kyiv saved UAH 70,000 on the procurement of masks because the price for one mask during the auction decreased from UAH 4 to UAH 0.4. Thirteen suppliers took part in the tender.
Of course, the savings indicator that we have just presented (the difference between the expected procurement price and the amount of the concluded contract) is very relative. After all, it does not take into account how well a procuring entity analyzed the market and determined the expected procurement price. However, as we can see, in competitive bidding, the risk of overstating the final price is minimized by competition between suppliers.
This is the second year of the pandemic in Ukraine — and for the second year, procuring entities can buy medical masks and a number of other goods, works and services without competitive procedures for any amount. In the first 12 months, government agencies spent almost UAH 31 bln on COVID-19 procurement. At the same time, the exclusion of such procurement from the Law has risks of inefficient use of funds (overpayments) and violations in procurement.
We must understand that the pandemic will not end in the near future, and the money saved will definitely be needed to fight the virus.
One of the ways to save money can be to amend the Resolution 225 of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. In particular, it is worth considering the option of procurement according to the rules of competitive additional pre-thresholds. This will be faster than buying at open auctions, and at the same time cheaper than signing agreements directly. In addition, it is necessary to determine which of the procuring entities can apply the special procedure and review the list approved for it in detail. It should be limited to really necessary goods, works and services, the procurement of which cannot be planned. Do masks currently belong to such products? We are more inclined to a “no.”
The material was prepared within the framework of the USAID/UK aid TAPAS Project/Transparency and Accountability in Public Administration and Services.