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Coronavirus in India: Why PPEs need urgent attention?

E Kumar Sharma     April 12, 2020

Leading hospitals are forced to shut operations temporarily as hospital staff members are reporting exposure to coronavirus. In the first week of April, as many as 108 health care staff including senior doctors, nurses and medical professionals at the Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi were quarantined. Now, there are reports that one in every 25 coronavirus patients in Delhi is a healthcare worker. Currently, operations of leading hospitals like Jaslok, Breach Candy and one of the Wockhardt hospitals in Mumbai, India's financial capital, have been impacted and shut temporarily. There are reports in the media of as many as 60 nurses in private hospitals contracting the virus in the city, leading state authorities to order hospitals to provide PPEs to staff.

Who is making PPEs?

The government is ensuring that around 20 domestic manufacturers are producing PPEs but it has not proven to be adequate. Many are new to this and despite acting fast and procuring machines needed to make PPEs, the process is moving slowly. Indian textile giant Arvind began making 1,000 coveralls a day with plans to double it quickly and ramp up further with possible design changes so other machines could also be used. HLL Lifecare has an emergency procurement machinery that is currently seeking 40 lakh N95 masks, 20 lakh nitrile gloves, 10 lakh protective goggles, 10 lakh personal protective garments, and 2 crore surgical masks, among other things.

A note put out by the Press Information Bureau on April 9 quoted the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare that said "orders have been placed for 1.7 crore PPEs and 49,000 ventilators".

Demand-supply gap

An official tracking development in India's financial capital says that a city like Mumbai will need about 4 lakh to 5 lakh PPEs in a month, which means that the current supplies need to be doubled. Even if available, hospitals say they are quite expensive. A single complete set costs over Rs 2,000. Typically, there are about four PPEs needed for every admitted patient in a hospital or under isolation.

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