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The Pandemic Is a Bonanza for Malaysia’s Medical Glove Industry

Manufacturers in the country could churn out as many as 240 billion units this year.

The air-leak test room at a Top Glove factory in Selangor, Malaysia.

The air-leak test room at a Top Glove factory in Selangor, Malaysia.

Photographer: Samsul Said/Bloomberg

Well before the new coronavirus came to global attention at the end of January, Lim Wee Chai had a feeling his company was headed for a good year. Since he founded Top Glove Corp. Bhd., the world’s largest maker of medical gloves, in 1991, there’s been one constant: Pandemics are good for business. “SARS, H1N1, bird flu, swine flu—there was a big surge in orders and demand,” Lim says. So as reports of a mysterious virus began to emerge from China, “we prepared ourselves for a big thing.”

The same is true of Lim’s local rivals. Malaysia is the world’s largest source of medical gloves, with a market share of about 65%. Dozens of companies, most clustered in industrial cities near Kuala Lumpur, turn out over 200 billion “units”—single gloves—every year, destined for doctor’s offices and hospitals all over the world. The sector has grown steadily since the 1980s, in tandem with more stringent hygiene standards in the developed world and improving medical services in China, India, and other emerging economies.