Covid-19: Indian healthcare workers need adequate PPE

The Indian government has taken many proactive steps to halt the rapid spread of the covid-19 pandemic in India. Measures include implementing a complete lockdown of all activities in the country and restricting citizens to their home.

Healthcare workers are working continuously and tirelessly to save the lives of patients with covid-19. Frontline healthcare workers are risking their lives and the only way to ensure their safety is through providing them with effective Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The Government of India has issued certain guidelines for the use of PPE. These guidelines are for healthcare workers and others working in points of entries such as quarantine centres, hospitals, laboratory and primary health care/community settings. 

Nearly 0.5 million PPE kits have been supplied to various government hospitals by central government, which have added to the initial stock of 2.75 lakhs available with States. The Ministry has also supplied approximately 3 million N95 masks to states which are over and above the initial stock of 1.6 million. 

However, this number is still not sufficient for healthcare workers. A Reuters agency report estimated that India needs at least 38 million masks and 6.2 million PPE kits to deal with this global pandemic. India needs over 0.1 Million PPE kits per day but has an acute shortage. 

The government is struggling to cope with the surge in demand for PPE. In some cases doctors have been forced to use raincoats and motorbike helmets. Several doctors and nurses have tested positive and the hospitals they were working at have been forced to shut down to control the outbreak.

In two of the largest states in India, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, health officials have admitted to a shortage of PPE, saying that a shortage in supply from manufacturers is to blame. In states like Bihar, healthcare workers have only been provided with gloves and masks, but not the coveralls. Doctors in several hospitals in these states have protested and refused to work until they have been given an adequate supply of adequate PPE.

There has been a steady involvement of various domestic companies in the production of PPE over the past few weeks resulting in India becoming the second largest producer of PPE in the world. 

Another issue which is affecting the safety of healthcare workers is the growing incidence of violence against healthcare workers, along with social stigmatization. There have been disturbing reports of violence against the healthcare workers across the country, which lead the government to bring in a new Ordinance, which makes violence against healthcare workers punishable with up to 7 years in prison. As a healthcare worker, I hope that the ordinance will  protect our frontline workers and stop the incidence of attacks against them. As we all deal with the impact of covid-19, I hope that society can come together to be supportive and understanding, and boost our morale and mental strength.  

Subhrojyoti Bhowmick is a Clinical Pharmacologist and Patient Safety professional based in Kolkata, India. He is a Honorary Lecturer at Institute of Clinical Sciences, University of Birmingham, UK and has been a Volunteer staff at the Patient Safety Unit, World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva. Twitter: @Dr_subhro

Conflict of Interest : None to declare