Even as the country is scrambling to ramp up supply of essential protective gear for health workers, companies are struggling to meet tough government standards in the absence of specified infrastructure, and access to testing facilities. A majority of players may consequently get disqualified, and not be able to supply to government hospitals, giving rise to potential shortages across.
Though industry had flagged concerns regarding poor standards and shortages as early as February, Union health ministry announced specifications for body coveralls/helmet suits, as late as March 24. This makes it difficult for a majority of companies to comply with them, as machinery is imported, while testing facilities at Coimbatore-based laboratory SITRA (South India Textile Research Association) are not logistically accessible, due to the nationwide lockdown.
In the wake of rising Covid19 cases, every country has banned exports of machinery and fabric required in personal protective equipment.
“There is a huge surge of orders from various hospitals asking for PPE kits. We fear there will be shortages as companies are not able to access key raw materials, as interstate movement has been impacted due to the lockdown. Also, we are unable to send samples to be tested to SITRA, due to the lockdown and courier services not operating”, said Dr Sanjiiiv, chairman PWMAI (Preventive Wear Manufacturers’ Association of India).
Though the government has floated an initial tender to procure 7.25 lakh pieces of body-coveralls, industry experts are not very confident that the order can be met quickly.
There are around 20 manufacturers of protective gear under the AiMeD umbrella, with a capacity of 6.6 million per year, or over 20,000 units per day, but a majority may not be able to comply with specifications.
In the midst of the Covid19 crisis, industry is seeking relaxations.
“It’s better to ensure a stockpile of essential protective gear, even if not validated or tested by a third- party lab by relying on the credentials of the manufacturer – like export experience, product sample quality, quality consciousness and self certification. In situations like this, the industry needs relaxation (in compliance), as no health worker should be subjected to the risk (of infection)”, Rajiv Nath forum coordinator AiMeD told TOI.
At present, the government is yet to provide the number of protective gear units it intends to stockpile, hence manufacturers have no clarity on the production they should plan, industry experts say.