The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has announced provisions for the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to the nation’s healthcare providers amidst the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.
Already, 60,000 PPE kits have been procured by the Union Health Ministry for hospitals so healthcare workers can safeguard themselves against COVID-19. 3.34 lakh PPEs are available across multiple hospitals at present, according to the Press Information Bureau.
At present, 2.6 million PPE kits have been ordered from twelve domestic manufacturers as well as 300,000 kits from ordnance factories. As well as domestic sources, PPE kits and other units of protective equipment are being procured from abroad. The Union Ministry of External Affairs has reached out to providers in Singapore and South Korea. The Korea-based supplier will provide two million PPE kits and the Singaporean supplier will provide one million. 300,000 PPE kits have been donated.
Meanwhile, the Government is also reported to be in the process of procuring PPE kits from China. The Indian Red Cross Society has arranged 10,000 from the country.
The mass procurement efforts are underway as India registers a need of 6.2 million PPE kits and 38 million masks according to a Reuters report. Lav Agarwal, a joint secretary in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said the Government was “trying its best” to procure sufficient levels of equipment as an India Invest report reviewed by Reuters suggested that 319 of 730 companies reached out to by the Government indicated an available supply of 9.1 million masks and 800,000 PPE components.
Of the call to action, “domestic manufacturers rose to the occasion” according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Of coveralls alone, 21 lakh have been ordered from domestic suppliers, it said. “Currently, they are supplying 6,000-7,000 coveralls per day and this is expected to go up to 15,000 per day within the next week. One more manufacturer has qualified…and an order of five lakh coveralls has been placed with it.”
Concerns have been expressed by the medical fraternity in India who are staffing the frontline of the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic about their personal safety on the job. “Many medical professionals have expressed grave concern to the Indian Medical Association (IMA) about the safety of health workers being exposed to patients who are carriers of the coronavirus,” commented Rajya Sabha MP and IMA national president Dr Satanu Sen. “Even if a single healthcare worker is infected due to government negligence, it will be a blot on us.”
Al Jazeera has reported panic among healthcare workers in India and said that sources are pinpointing mismanagement by government authorities as the reason behind the dearth of vital resources such as PPE kits. It cited delays in stockpiling raw materials, failure to prevent profiteering, and an unevenness and delay in prohibiting exports of PPE and materials. Shortages have prompted some healthcare workers to substitute raincoats for coveralls.
As reported in Livemint, even as manufacturers scale up production, “the delay in procurement of PPE has already irreversibly jeopardised the public health response to COVID-19” according to All India Drug Action Network co-convenor Malini Aisola. “While some positive measures are being initiated, there is still no concerted effort on the part of the government to address the PPE shortages.”
Underestimating the true scope of demand for PPE kits was also cited by Al Jazeera. Reporting on the minutes of a meeting of the Ministry of Textiles held on March 18th, Al Jazeera noted that its estimated demand of 700,000 protective coveralls, six million N-95 masks and ten million 3-ply masks by May-end were deemed “wildly conservative” by commentators. It cited the projections of All India Drug Action Network, which estimated a daily demand of 500,000 PPE coveralls alone.
For the protection of India’s health workers, it is clear that concerted efforts must be made to ensure the availability of PPE to those on the frontline. The Government is taking steps to do so, with the Health Ministry stating “prevention, containment and management of Covid-19 in the country are being monitored at the highest level and various actions have been initiated in collaboration with the states. In order to meet the requirement of PPEs, masks and ventilators, factories producing essential items are working round the clock and ordnance factories are trying to produce personal protection equipment for medical personnel.”
In the wake of existing concerns, it is patent that such efforts be sustained and commensurate with the needs of those putting their lives for the sake of public health.