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While Imported COVID PPEs Are Closely Screened, Indian Merchants Allowed to Get Away Selling Fake PPE at Inflated Prices to Places Like Manipur

[avatar user=”Chitra Ahanthem” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file” target=”_blank”]CHITRA AHANTHEM[/avatar]

The most interesting development this week nationally and at the state level has to be the matter of the quality of protective gear for medical personnel involved in the fight against Covid 19. On the national front, thousands of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits donated by China were deemed ‘defective and failing safety tests at Government approved laboratories’ and in Manipur, 1250 N95 masks were seized by a special team of Vigilance and Anti Corruption Police Station following the discovery that many of the masks provided to the Churachandpur District hospital looked old while some had mould.

Isn’t it ironic that the kits coming in from China were made to undergo quality tests while the ones being procured within the country seem to be allowed to miss the radar? Let’s dig a bit deeper: most of the medical paraphernalia in the form of triple layer masks, N95 masks and PPE kits (consisting of N95 masks, eye goggles, head cover, full body gown and protective wear over shoes) are being sent to Imphal through an interesting chain.

Those in Manipur who supply different medical protective items (and sometimes different brands: more on that later) mostly source their material from Delhi. Once the rates and quantity of the items are finalized, they are packed and sent to the Manipur Bhavan in New Delhi from where they are picked up and sent to Imphal by Indian Air Force cargo flights which make drops at other locations in Nagaland, Assam and Mizoram as required. At no point is a quality check done and suppliers in Manipur have to throw in their hats blindly which is what happened with the lot of masks that ended up at the Churachandpur district hospital.

Not many know that the matter came to light because the spouse of the Churachandpur MLA is a staff at the District hospital, which meant that in no time word reached the Chief Minister and the Health Minister. The main supplier of that defective lot is FAMA Marketing based in Guwahati, which had sent in over 3000 units of N95 masks at the Medical Directorate, Government of Manipur approved rate of Rs 450 for each unit. A source tells me that the said masks not only look like they have been used and then washed and ironed but were easily available in pre Covid times at less than Rs 50 per unit, and have now been passed off as N95 masks.

Another major supplier of medical equipment to Manipur based in Delhi, M/S Lords sent in 10,000 units of Dhulrakshak or anti-pollution masks as N95 masks. As most would know, these anti pollution masks are available at less than Rs 50 per unit and will offer no protection to health personnel against Covid-19. Hopefully, the Manipur Government will take stringent action against the suppliers and prevent any more such cases by ensuring quality checks at Delhi before supplies are loaded and moved to Manipur.

Nationally, there has been a buzz over whether faulty or below par medical protective wear is a factor behind medical care providers and personnel contracting Covid-19 from the patients they treat or potential cases they are exposed to and Manipur Government should ensure that these suppliers are exposed and strict action taken against them.

Another strong note that needs to be made by the State Government to suppliers is the matter of packaging. A source tells me that earlier, all medical supplies for the fight against Covid-19 came packed airtight in carton boxes but this seems to be getting lax with synthetic sacks being used for packing which means risks of them getting dirty or infected with other germs in their transit. The suppliers in Delhi are already playing with inflated pricing: most of them procure entire PPE sets from across the country for as low as Rs 200 per set but to let them go unscathed when they play with the quality of life saving material is a serious matter. All said and done, what all of this exposes in part is the total failure of the Central Government to lay down clearly what quality standards should be in play, what brand and what make can be supplied to which medical staff.

One more matter of concern regarding protective wear for medical personnel is the fact that staff at PHCs and CHCs are only getting triple layer masks (and in inadequate numbers by the way) and not N95 masks. This seems to be in place as per the guidelines by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) but the guidelines for health providers and community health workers by the World Health Organization mention that they need to be given N95 masks. The term ‘community health workers’ definitely cover medical staff at PHCs and CHCs. But one sees ‘social workers’ and MLAs wearing N95 masks while staff at PHCs and CHCs are not even getting adequate supply of three-layered masks, leave alone getting N95 masks.

The Manipur Government cannot afford to take it for granted that the Covid 19 situation is over. With ‘easing of lockdown restrictions being considered’, it should be taken into consideration that Manipur’s neighbor Assam, from where most trucks bringing in essential items has got quite a huge number of cases but has not gone in for community or mass testing.

Till there is a complete procedure of sanitization at Assam where packed items are disinfected and loaded either by sanitized machines or labourers who have undergone health checks ups and thermal scanner checks and wearing protective gear like gloves, cloth masks, head mask etc, and the same procedure followed in Manipur, there are still risks of Covid 19 entering either through human contact or in the form of fomites on the materials coming in. Add this factor to the Myanmar-India border, majority of which is porous and unmanned and you have risks to consider and take due note of.

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