India’s efforts to arm itself with necessary medical equipment to fight its rising coronavirus infections are being hindered by the uncertainties of a three-week nationwide lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Strict movement curbs being enforced by local state governments are hampering supplies of medical devices and those trying to meet the growing demands of surgical gloves, masks and personal protective equipment kit for health workers. Employees have been stopped by local police as they try and reach work while truck drivers carrying raw materials to these factories have also been halted at check points.
“We have been working on making testing kits for COVID-19 for last 3-4 weeks. But our launch is getting delayed as local administration is not allowing movement of raw materials despite being covered under essential services,” Ravish Mittal, the chief financial officer, of Trivitron Healthcare Pvt Ltd, said by phone. “On March 24, a few of our employees were beaten up by the police,” Mittal said.
India, which has reported 562 infections and nine deaths so far, has been racing to control the spread of the virus among its 1.3 billion people. In his speech on March 24, Modi asked people not to worry about the supply of essential materials but manufacturers say federal guidelines have not reached all the local governments. Local media has also reported wide scale disruptions in supply of essential commodities in the immediate aftermath of the nation wide curfew.
The gaps in the supply chain can potentially derail India’s efforts to tackle the outbreak, Rajiv Nath, founder of Association of Indian Medical Device Industry, said.
“Things are difficult for the manufacturers who are ready to ramp up capacity but are unable to do so due to local governments. Federal government is doing everything it can but there is lack of coordination at the local level,” Nath, who is also the managing director of Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices Ltd, said. “If factories are not able to produce and the supplies are unable to reach hospitals, entire process gets defeated.”
As the numbers continue to rise in India there are deep concerns about whether it’s broken health-care system can handle the crisis.
Mittal said his company has written to the prime minister’s office seeking immediate intervention on “bringing out explicit notification to all state governments, local authorities, police and other enforcement agencies” to ensure seamless movement of medical supplies essential for manufacturing and patient care.
India’s health-care spending is among the lowest in the world — just 3.7% of gross domestic product. That’s left it with a patchwork of overcrowded public hospitals, and private ones that are unaffordable for many people. Scaling up its medical facilities and the availability of equipment and protective gear will be crucial for the nation.
“Our company makes 300,000 surgical gloves per day and my factory has been shut for two days. Production has suffered as we are not able to procure diesel for boilers, packaging material due to lockdown,” Kamal Ratra, director, RFB Latex Ltd, said. “I have 300 people working for me and only 12-13 people came on Tuesday. We need these gloves for health care workers.”