Dr BS Ajaikumar
Chairman & CEO,
HealthCare Global Enterprises, Banglore

India needs to be more proactive than reactive

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has stressed and stretched the healthcare industry globally, evaluating its capabilities for patient care and protection toward their healthcare workers. Our frontline health workers are constantly exposed to large concentrations of viruses, when they treat patients with underlying conditions of ailments, which are related to virus infections. Medical professionals today are constantly on their toes battling with a highly infectious virus. All healthcare workers across the world are grappling with the shortage of PPE kits. The surge in the coronavirus cases leading to the closure of borders, the shortage of PPE kits is felt across the globe, and India relies heavily on imports. The frontline workers without adequate PPE gear are equivalent to soldiers at war without armour. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, about 89 million medical masks and 76 million gloves are required for COVID-19 response every month. And India needs at least 38 million masks and 6.2 million PPEs to battle the pandemic.

Lack of adequate PPE for frontline workers, including respirators, gloves, face shields, gowns, and hand sanitizers, is a disturbing scenario. Health workers in Italy have been impacted due to the high rate of infection, leading to many deaths, partly because of limited access to PPE gear. Sufficient production and distribution of both types of equipment to the healthcare establishments is crucial to caring for patients during the pandemic.

As per the government’s guidelines, high-risk workers should get full PPE kits, while those with moderate risks should get N95 masks and gloves. The lower-risk healthcare workers should get triple-layered masks and optional gloves. The government’s delayed response to the concerns raised for the shortage of PPE kits is causing disarray among medical professionals, making them use other alternatives such as raincoats and helmets, etc.

India’s reliance on China as the main source of PPE kits is high, and to allow unconditional imports, had never foreseen the dangers of dependency. India had placed an order for 15 million PPE kits from China, out of which nearly 63,000 PPEs failed to meet the set parameters of quality testing. This has led to ramping up the manufacturing of PPE kits within the country. The shortage of supply led to the sudden mushrooming of many new players in the market, and now we are producing around 200,000 PPE kits a day.

In a recent development, where the Indian Navy designed and received clearance for mass production, showcases that with the stringent benchmarks set by ICMR and the Union Health Ministry, PPE kits can be manufactured domestically. Caremont, a Bengaluru based company that was manufacturing gloves and disposable gowns till now, has also started manufacturing PPE gear. The company is procuring polypropylene, a non-woven fabric, from mills in Coimbatore and Tirupur, and manufacturing around 2000 such kits, which are being supplied to around 80 hospitals across Karnataka. Hula Global, an apparel manufacturing company based out of Delhi NCR region, is now manufacturing and distributing PPE gear under a standalone brand called Ultra. With the material approved by the South India Textile Research Association, it is now making around 5000 kits per week. From having no domestic manufacturing in the country to reaching to this level shows that India holds the capability to become the hub for manufacturing PPE kits globally.

To bridge the gap between the need and the availability of PPE kits, we need a multi-pronged strategy, where the government should identify the companies, equipped enough to manufacture these kits. They should adhere to stringent quality guidelines lest we fall prey to faulty equipment, further risking many lives. The government should set the prices so that the manufacturers do not overcharge the hospitals.

The kickstart of the home-grown manufacturing of PPE kits, and with the industry working to its full potential, soon, we would not need to depend on imports and can meet domestic demand at least.

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