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Govt's apathy in procuring PPEs 'creates' shortage of safety gears

New Delhi: Despite the government's claim of having enough quantity of personal protective equipment (PPEs) in the country, the complaints by health workers of not getting safety gears are on the rise.

The reports are coming from across the country that PPEs are being manufactured at domestic level. To give a boost to the indigenous making of PPEs, on April 16, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) had issued specifications for the manufacture of "bio-protective coveralls" for frontline workers at risk of COVID-19 exposure.

However, the BIS is the only agency to decide standards and specifications for all goods made in India, but the agency didn't even thought of laying out standards either in February or March -- even after the country reported its first COVID-19 cases on January 30. The specifications were also not issued by the Union Health Ministry for PPEs manufacturing, when cases were rising at snail's pace.

After so many if and buts, finally BIS released its specifications on April 16 that further created confusion among manufactures as there were other sets of guidelines by the Health Ministry. Clearing the confusion, BIS clarified the next day (April 17) that standards specified by the Union Health Ministry would be applicable.

As per the experts the non-availability of protective gears for health workers is the outcome of 'lethargic' approach of officials involved in the decision making in the government system. "As India reported its first COVID-19, the government banned the export of all PPEs on January 31, which was partially lifted on February 8 for surgical masks and all gloves," the experts said, adding that the government went further and allowed the export of eight types of PPE items on February 25, which was a suicidal attempt.

There were a shortage and the government sent PPEs to other infected countries. However, the ban was re-imposed on March 19 when there were 194 corona positive cases.

On the direction of the government, the Textiles Ministry held a meeting on March 18 with manufacturing associations and the Health Ministry, wherein health ministry said that HLL had placed orders for 20 lakh masks and 7.25 lakh coveralls.

At the meeting, the health ministry had estimated that government hospitals would need 60 lakh N-95 masks, one crore three-ply masks and 7.25 lakh coveralls up to May.

However, at the end of March, the Health Ministry had procured only 60,000 out of 60 lakh PPE ordered, half from domestic companies and half from abroad. On April 14, the Centre claimed that it has ordered 15 million PPE from China. Apart from that, China also donated 1.7 lakh kits to India, but it was found that more than 50,000 of them have failed the quality test.

The experts also claimed that states and Centre were at loggerheads over procurement of safety kits as Centre wanted to procure kits for the states, which is not allowed in the present set up when health is a state subject.

Confusion over specifications still prevails as some state governments have tweaked the Centre's specifications by adding some of their own details to the specifications.

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