‘Many of you have generously funded us for the PPE kits and our commitment is to judiciously utilise the funds’ : Latika Thukral

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about many challenges, including non-availability and poor quality of Personal Protective Equipment Kits (‘PPE Kits’). With the rapid spread of the virus, we felt the need to secure the front-line warriors by assisting in the procurement of this protective equipment.

In order to meet this goal, we launched this campaign for procurement of PPE Kits for distribution to ‘front-line warriors’. As we gathered financial support from various individuals and corporates, we realised the problem was not so much with the availability of PPE kit – which were available in abundance. Instead, there were several vendors that sold different variants and specifications. We received calls and email from over 40 vendors offering to sell PPE Kits.

Upon conducting our preliminary research, we concluded that there was discussion in the market about low-quality or even fake PPE Kits. Hence, we found it prudent to seek advice from an expert in the industry to ensure that the safety of the intended users of these PPE kits is not compromised.

We reached out to Deepak Kapur, who has been extremely helpful in the process of procurement of PPE Kits. Deepak was the MD of a vaccine company and has spent 30+ years in the biopharmaceutical industry. He realised that many people lacked knowledge on this subject and has agreed to assist us.

Fortunately, the cases were relatively low, and we had the time to explore alternatives. We recognised the importance of PPE Kits and the role of the health care workers and took a conscious decision to proceed cautiously.

ICMR issued specifications for the fabric and the apparel. Ministry of Textiles appointed SITRA and DRDO as the two Approved Quality Labs for the fabric and apparel.

The ICMR guidelines were the following:
• Coveralls/gowns to be single-use,
• Conformance to Synthetic Blood Penetration Resistance Test’ (ISO 16603) and
• Resistance to penetration by biologically contaminated solid particles (ISO 22612:2005).
• The Coveralls should be taped at the seams to prevent fluid/droplets/aerosol entry.

Deepak has, from the early days of this dialogue, expressed his concerns about two issues:
a) Comfort
b) Disposal Single Use vs Reusable.

Medical workers are required to spend long hours in the coveralls and must be comfortable regardless of whether one worked in controlled environments or not. Summers would only exacerbate the problem.
Single use garments create an enormous problem not only in disposal but also in contamination control. They are work out more expensive as compared to reusable garments.
The specifications seemed to have overlooked the need for breathability and comfort entirely. All three specs focussed on barrier properties. Consequently, many fabricators used the cheapest grade/process to satisfy the specs. It is possible that in the transcription of the specifications, the need for the garment to wick and breathe fell between the cracks! Not surprisingly, when the first samples arrived, we found them extremely uncomfortable and suffocating and raised a red flag with the administration and the medical fraternity.

Breathable single-use garments are used all over the world the challenge was to replicate this safely in India. We researched the subject, engaged with experts in the field of contamination control, textile engineers, fabric suppliers and vendors.

One thing led to another, and it transpired that a fabric with similar properties is manufactured for other applications. It was made of a far superior grade of PP/PE with layers of Spun and Melt blown and Spun material (SMS). The product had both barrier and wicking capabilities. This fabric was altered to Spun-Melt-Melt-Melt-Spun (SMMMS) and then laminated with a micro pore membrane to meet our requirements. The product was tested at DRDO and met the criteria for fluid penetration. It is demonstrated to be breathable.

We were lucky to find the manufacturer(Texlinks) of this fabric in Gurgaon and we connected to Gravity House, sample coveralls and gowns made with multiple compositions. These were further refined by Jasdeep (Gravity House) who worked with Dr Sushila Kataria, Medanta hospital to come up with the final design and shared with the medical fraternity who are immensely satisfied. We are also working on reusable fabric which will bring down the cost of the PPE kits. The availability of 3M 1860 respirators continue to be a challenge and far most an important part of the PPE kit.

Thank you for believing in iamgurgaon and we sincerely value your support.