Coronavirus in India: 20 lakh PPE kits remain unsold as breathability norms stand flouted; Details

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Published: July 21, 2020 4:48 PM

The domestic production has far outweighed the country’s demand, causing the cost of the kits to fall from Rs 1,500 to Rs 300 per kit.

The export of PPEs was changed from ‘prohibited’ to ‘restricted’ category at the end of June.The export of PPEs was changed from ‘prohibited’ to ‘restricted’ category at the end of June.

PPE kits in India: Indigenous PPE kits remain unsold as medical professionals complain of lack of breathability. As the coronavirus pandemic struck India in March, the country was left with an acute shortage of PPEs, as the global supply chain stood disrupted. However, India had taken the problems in a stride and by May, over 600 indigenous makers of PPE kits had been certified, according to a report in IE. This had made India the second largest manufacturer of PPEs, with the first one being China. The IE report added, however, that in a rush to increase the production of the kits, the quality norms were foregone.

The report stated that several medical professionals had dubbed these kits “sweat chambers” and several stakeholders said that they were unfit for export or domestic use. As a result, an estimate of 20 lakh kits were left unsold in the first week of July as the country witnessed a stall in production, the report added. Moreover, while the export of PPEs was changed from ‘prohibited’ to ‘restricted’ category at the end of June, with a permissible limit of 50 lakh kits, no licenses have been issued for the export yet.

While the domestic production has far outweighed the country’s demand, causing the cost of the kits to fall from Rs 1,500 to Rs 300 per kit, coronavirus warriors, who are fighting to contain the virus spread have been complaining about the suffocating and unwearable quality of the kits.

The report quoted Lucknow’s Sanjay Gandhi Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences critical care head Dr Arvind Baronia as saying that their institution returned around 60 to 70% of the kits that had been supplied to them. He added that spending even a few minutes in the kits was difficult since they were made of cheap non-woven fabric having polyethylene lamination.

The Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) had sought to test the PPEs under ISO 11092, the sweating guarded-hotplate test, back in April. The report said that the test was sought to be conducted since materials which did not allow the moisture to transmit were generally uncomfortable and medical professionals were subjected to “heat stress” when they had to use them for a long duration.

However, the report added that these norms stood withdrawn three days later, and it quotes sources as saying that it was aimed to encourage mass production of PPEs. While withdrawing the norms, the BIS had tweeted that for then, the standards specified by the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare were applicable. The standards set by the ministry only required the PPEs to be “impermeable to blood and body fluids”, which, according to experts, was achieved by adding a lamination that did not allow any breathing at all.

In June, the BIS had issued interim norms based on the PPE guidelines given by the Health Ministry. Testing for moisture transmission or breathability was not mentioned at all.

A BIS spokesperson was quoted by the report as saying that the standard requirements are issued after all stakeholders are consulted and after extensive deliberations. Several factors like the raw material availability, country’s manufacturing capability, availability test facilities and methods, among others, are taken into account. The spokesperson added that a committee which consists of experts as well as stakeholders has already been formed and based on their recommendations, the standard would be revised comprehensively in due course of time.

So far, it is unknown why the standard issued in April had been withdrawn.

As per stakeholders, new entrants into the field of PPE manufacturing had followed inadequate standards.

The Managing Director of a Vadodara firm which has developed PPE kits that are reusable, Nishith Dand was quoted by the IE report as saying that while a few countries could find takers in Africa or in the neighbouring countries, developed countries are unlikely to procure these PPEs which lack breathability. He added that it is uncalled for to create such PPEs, since the use of breathable fabrics only increase the cost by 10-15%.

What is making matters worse, the report said, is that the worldwide demand for PPEs has now slumped, after it peaked around April and May. A Raipur-based manufacturer was quoted as saying that most producers had an unsold stock of at least a week’s production, in addition to the raw material. He added that relief could have come sooner had the government allowed exports earlier.

However, with such standards being foregone, it is unclear when, if at all, the export of PPEs would be allowed.

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