“I am a government employed surgeon. I have probably been exposed to Covid-19, I cannot know. I haven't been tested. Our casualty still allows anywhere between 2-20 relatives per patient, & we see over 600 per day. Asking everyone for detailed travel history is a luxury I can't afford,” tweeted a doctor this week.
She went on to say, “I don't want your claps. I want your genuine and wholehearted effort in ensuring my wellbeing. I want personal protective equipment.”
PPEs are in short supply everywhere and while India used to import them from 3M, DuPont and Honeywell, it is no longer possible to get the supply from abroad because of the surging demand abroad. Indeed, in the United States the hashtag#GiveMePPE has been trending for the past several days with medical professionals hitting the panic button.
Personal Protective Equipment include face masks, eye shield, shoe cover, gown and gloves. Medical professionals can use them for only five or six hours before having to discard them. Even N-95 face masks cannot be used for more than a day or two. And there is an elaborate protocol on how to dispose them.
But while the Government estimates it will require 10 million surgical masks, six million N-95 masks and 700,000 body overalls for doctors and para-medics in the next two months, the three firms engaged by the Government, based in Vadodara, Bengaluruand Gurugram, can together manufacture less than one lakh of these gear every month. Ramping up capacity would require adding to the manpower and capital investment.
The problem is exacerbated by bureaucratic red tape. “We have written several times to the health ministry from February 12 onwards and met many of them too,” Protection Wear Manufacturers Association of India chairman was quoted as saying on March 21, “You can imagine their sense of urgency when they still haven’t managed to come out with specifications, over a month later.”
Another doctor admitted, “ But we are already facing a severe shortage of masks, sanitizers and other essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). We are spending from our own pocket to protect ourselves during OPD and ward rounds. Apart from the designated isolation ward, no other place is being sanitised as per protocol.”
A junior doctor in West Bengal has been quoted by Asiavillenews as recalling, “Today, when we went to work, we were not given N95 masks. This is the state in all state medical colleges. We are being told that if you are not working in the Emergency Room (ER), there is no risk of exposure. But what about patients in wards and OPDs? The authorities say, “We have been working here for 30 years, since before you were even born. We've lived through H1N1, and we have been using normal surgical masks only.”
People look at us and say, “Oh, but the mortality in your age group is so low”. My own friends said this when they saw me wearing a mask before Stage-II of the epidemic. But we can become carriers and spread it to someone else.”
A doctor in Mumbai revealed, “We cannot even test our own elderly, critical patients in our ICUs who have sudden-onset, severe pneumonia. The samples we send are not accepted by Kasturba; they want patients to be sent there, and they will decide on a case-to-case basis. Even if we have a corona patient in the ICU right now, we will not know, because we cannot diagnose it.”
For more accounts by doctors, read this report: