Hemant Sapra

Founder of Karam Safety Pvt. Ltd. and President, Safety Appliances Manufactures’ Association (SAMA)

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Challenges Of PPE Industry For Covid-19 Third Wave

Government and corporations must come together to stem the flow of counterfeits in the Indian market by creating awareness about quality PPE certifications.

The COVID-19 pandemic imposed numerous unprecedented challenges affecting multiple sectors globally, medical services facilitation being one of them. India tackled this crisis by producing 4.5 lakh PPE on a daily average. Thus, the PPE industry in India witnessed 56 times growth by improving its manufacturing capacity to meet the challenges head-on. It now stands as the world's second-largest producer of PPE producing more than 4.5 lakh per day. This remarkable feat showcased India's potential to supply affordable quality PPE across the world.

However, the multiple lockdowns enforced across the country to help slow the COVID-19 infections also posed a challenge to the PPE Industry. It was majorly due to the scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE). The shutting down of factories to curb the election disrupted the supplies everywhere. Additionally, the suspension of flights and cargo capacity last year had exacerbated the shortage.

From last year to date, KARAM alone manufactured more than 1 crore Disposable Masks, 30 lakhs Chemical Splash Goggles and large amount of Face shields and Coveralls to cater to the supply demand. With the third wave coming in, the industry is gearing up to prepare safety equipment to address the uncertainties. There are many challenges faced by the PPE industry while gearing up for the third wave. Let us look at them.

Unprecedented Demand for PPE

PPE saw a sudden demand last year due to the increased cases in the nation. They are generally needed for frontline workers and general practitioners, alongside industries, laboratories, quarantine centers, air travelers, and other sectors. A study by UNICEF has estimated that the needs could reach 2.2 billion surgical masks, 1.1 billion gloves, 13 million goggles, and 8.8 million face shields by the end of this year. Industries are in a capacity-building process to cater to this demand.

Difficulties in Supply Chain Due to Lockdowns

While the capacity-building process was itself a herculean task while another challenge added in the form of lockdown, nationwide and localized lockdowns, causing multiple supply chain disruptions, the cost of transportation is already on the rise owing to high fuel costs as well.

Quality Issues in Raw Material Required for PPE Production

The primary challenge in manufacturing the protection equipment is the lack of a reliable supply of high-grade raw material. It made manufacturing difficult and cost-inefficient to adhere to the quality standards, which are among the world's most stringent. To tackle the supply chain and raw material challenges, KARAM produced the essential raw material in a face mask which is the primary filtering fabric of the mask- the melt-blown. The masks made of non-woven fabrics made from melt-blown extrusion are used to make high-grade ISI-certified masks.

Poor Quality or Non- Certified PPE Flooded the Market

Seeing the surge in demands of the PPE, many non-certified companies manufactured counterfeit PPE to make quick money. With a shortage of raw materials, quality products are available at a higher cost making people buy the cheaper options. Taking it as an advantage, many bogus suppliers flooded the markets with low-quality PPE at lower prices. These sub-standard quality PPE do not comply with the regulatory safety norms. This scenario is bound to repeat when there is a surge in cases during the third wave too.

Minimal Awareness about the Product Certification in the Market

Government and corporations must come together to stem the flow of counterfeits in the Indian market by creating awareness about quality PPE certifications. They must conduct meaningful awareness programs to train hospital staff in identifying the gaps between original and counterfeit PPE.

Lack of Expertise in Developing Proper Masks for Children

Industries have to start developing kid-sized masks and other PPE and double up manufacturing PPE kits for the caregivers to stay prepared for the third wave. In reality, many lack expertise in developing proper masks for children.

The current need of the hour is to keep up with the rising demand and provide the PPE without compromising the quality. Many companies are going overcapacity to cater for future uncertainties. Additionally, when the PPE industry has come to the fore as an essential industry, the Government should support the industry and bridge the gaps in implementing the related laws in India. As a developing country with an economic labour supply as its unique proposition, India needs to systematically implement reforms to improve working conditions and labour productivity systematically.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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