The current pandemic has shown just how vulnerable our country is to a worldwide medical emergency. All one has to do is read the paper, watch the news or search the internet, and numerous issues with medical equipment and medications being in short supply are readily found.
Well over 80% of all medical supplies, including sterile supplies used in surgery, antibiotics and vaccines, are manufactured overseas. Obviously, this can and does cause a supply-side issue for the United States and West Virginia. As a physician and surgeon, I have seen this up close, as regionally and nationally we had initial shortages of medical supplies in dealing with COVID-19. While some semblance of normalcy is returning, we are at a tremendous risk should a second wave of the virus, other natural disaster or a break in the supply chain occur.
For example, Puerto Rico has over 80 pharmaceutical plants and accounts for the fifth-largest pharmaceutical manufacturing area in the world. While part of the United States, it, too, is susceptible to disruptions in manufacturing and distribution. All one has to do is see what happened after a Category 5 hurricane hit the island in 2017. The entire East Coast was hit with shortages of many medications and supplies. Puerto Rico had a 5.5 magnitude earthquake on May 2, 2020. Truly we are just a short step away from further medical catastrophe.
Southern West Virginia is well situated to bring in medical and pharmaceutical manufacturing. Marshall University has both a medical school and a pharmacy school, which would make for a perfect fit for medical manufacturing. Additionally, Marshall has business and engineering schools that could provide further expertise. This region has access to major interstates, railroad and river transport. Bringing in these industries would provide jobs for this area of the state, encourage our young people to stay in state and provide much-needed medical supplies for our state and for the country.
I think that our mayor, city and county councils as well as the governor and state legislators need to act on this in all haste. Certainly, at this time in our nation the National Defense Act could possibly serve as a source of funding to get this industry started. Our regional, state and national representatives know the legal issues as well as have access to entrepreneurs and companies to make this plan a reality. I ask them to do so for the good of the people of West Virginia and the United States. I encourage all West Virginians to contact their representatives and encourage them to get working on this.