Monday, 30th October 2017

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PPE shortage: health ministry acts

Too little, too late? Criticised for lack of protective gear, govt takes steps, ropes in Red Cross, pvt sector

By Furquan Ameen in New Delhi
  • Published 30.03.20, 6:55 PM
  • Updated 30.03.20, 6:55 PM
  • 3 mins read
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Doctors during a meeting in Allahabad on March 24 (AP photo)

Only 3.34 lakh personal protective equipment (PPE) are available with hospitals in the country, the Union health ministry said on Monday, days after it was criticised for the shortage of protective gear for medical professionals at the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus.

In addition to the available PPE, 60,000 PPE have been procured and 10,000 donated by Red Cross, the ministry said.

The rest of the PPEs, a document released by the ministry said, will be acquired in the coming days. This includes 3 lakh donated overalls which will arrive by April 4. Another order of 3 lakh PPEs have been placed with ordinance factories.

“Eleven domestic producers of PPEs have qualified so far, and orders for 21 lakh overalls have been placed. The producers are supplying 6,000-7,000 pieces a day, and are expected to go up to 15,000 per day by mid-April,” the ministry said.

The health ministry also said there were 11.95 lakh N95 masks in stock in the hospitals.

It also said that 6.4 lakh masks had been distributed since Saturday.

“N95 masks are manufactured by two domestic producers. They are able to supply 50,000 masks daily at the moment, but are ramping up capacities to make 1 lakh masks per day within the next week,” the statement said.

Two days ago, a Reuters report cited an internal document by the country’s investment agency which estimated that India need at least 38 million — 14 million for state governments — and 6.2 million PPE pieces.

The agency, Invest India, did not have any time frame of the demand.

The news agency found out that Invest India had approached “730 companies for ventilators, ICU monitors, protective equipment, masks and testing kits, of which 319 firms had responded so far”.

The statement on the PPE requirement by the ministry earlier on Monday tallies with the Invest India report; however, industry players have pointed out that it might still not be enough.

World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and several doctors across the country have pointed out that PPEs are disposable items and can be utilised once by a healthcare worker for six-eight hours. Industry experts have been criticising the government for delayed response in stockpiling of protective gear for healthcare workers.

Sanjiiiv Relhan of the Preventive Wear Manufacturers’ Association of India (PWMAI) had told The Telegraph Online of the estimated 0.5 million to 1.5 million PPE requirement every day, depending on the healthcare workers involved in fighting coronavirus cases.

Multiple reports of the lack of protective gear in public hospitals in the country have surfaced.

In some places, doctors have been silenced or transferred for demanding facilities while in others, healthcare workers have to make do with plastic or garbage bags to attend to Covid-19 patients.

Until Sunday, the response on PPEs and ventilators given by the ministry representative in daily press briefings on Covid-19 was at best vague.

Joint secretary (health) Lav Agarwal told reporters on Sunday that the ministry “held a series of meetings with the technical experts and the manufacturers in India and understood the WHO guidelines on it”. He added the guidelines were suitably amended

Four days ago, Agarwal had said the ministry was aware of the problem of supply chain disruption wherein imported components of PPE and N95 masks were required.

“This requirement is a function of our graded response. So, the requirement of a month ago may not be the same today,” Agarwal told reporters on Sunday.

According to the Italian Federation of Medical Professional Associations, 61 medical workers have died of Covid-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic.

In the statement, the ministry also responded to the concerns around availability of ventilators in the country. It said that over 14,000 existing ventilators were earmarked for Covid-19 patients in various hospitals in the country.

“Ventilators are required for patients who tend to develop acute respiratory disease syndrome (ARDS). Less than 20 Covid-19 patients are on ventilator support at this moment,” the ministry said.

In addition to the existing ventilators, the ministry has placed orders of 10,000 more ventilators from Noida-based Agva Healthcare. The ministry has also asked the public sector undertaking, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), to collaborate with local players to manufacture 30,000 ventilators in the next two months.

The government has also approached automobile manufacturers to make ventilators.

“Automobile manufacturers have been asked to manufacture ventilators and they are working towards this end,” the ministry tweeted.