With the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases in India, the health infrastructure of the country faces an imminent challenge, and one of the most crucial accessories for frontline health workers to combat the crisis safely is a PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) kit.
But there are multiple issues here—the country is reeling under a severe shortage of these safety kits. Also, fraudulent products from shoddy manufacturers are flooding the market, and the ones which are deemed to be potent are exorbitantly expensive.
As administrations are frantically looking for affordable yet efficient solutions, a small district in interior Uttar Pradesh has stepped up to the occasion. Under the guidance of IAS officer Arvind Singh, rural women in Lakhimpur Kheri have delivered global standard PPE kits in bulk, which has earned accolades from all over.
In fact, the Indian Army in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have commissioned these PPE kits in bulk for supplying to their designated COVID-19 hospitals.
So how did the quality of a product designed by underprivileged village women achieve a benchmark that even seasoned manufacturers failed to reach? Arvind Singh, the Chief Development Officer (CDO) of Lakhimpur Kheri, shares the secret with The Better India.
Stepping up at the nick of time
“Ours is not a very infrastructurally advanced district with multi-speciality healthcare facilities. So, as the COVID-19 situation intensified, teams of healthcare professionals were urgently deployed at all of our health centres,” informs Singh.
Each team had 25 members—including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, ambulance drivers and janitors—and worked in two shifts during the day, where they were continually coming in direct contact with Coronavirus patients. Along with them, the food suppliers to the patients as well as police personnel in charge of the hospital security and quarantine centres also needed protection.
“I sensed that all our frontline workers needed PPE kits immediately. There was a surge in demand for the same, but due to the countrywide lockdown, procuring them became a hassle. Fortunately, we had already engaged our self-help groups in indigenously manufacturing the same, days before the lockdown was announced on 25th March.”
Sitting down with his team, Singh started cold calling suppliers to procure raw materials as soon as possible. His team laid unmitigated focus on quality, design, process and, of course, capacity-building of the women involved in the initiative which was named Operation Kabach.
Once the raw materials were secured, the women were meticulously trained in designing the kits, comprising polypropylene coveralls, goggles, face shields, headgears, masks, gloves and shoe covers.
Singh himself regularly dropped in at the centres and carefully examined the design. The product was finalised after nearly twenty iterations, and the hard work paid off as the Health Department was deeply impressed with their design.
Supporting frontline health workers, army officials and the police
As of now, the Northern Commands Army Base hospital in Lucknow has ordered 2000 PPE kits from Operation Kabach. Brigadier N Ramakrishnan was highly content with the Singh’s design and immediately sanctioned the bulk order.
The Lucknow Cantonment of 41st Infantry Brigade has ordered 52 kits, and the Kumaon Indore division has ordered 20 kits while the Sashastra Seema Bal ordered 30 PPE kits. A major portion of these orders have already been delivered.
Each kit costs Rs 490, which is less than half of what the Army and health department was paying to private enterprises for subpar materials. The payment for the orders are made directly to the SHG bank accounts and are thereby empowering the women.
“Presently, we have the strength of around 175 women across 28 SHGs in 6 blocks of the district, namely, Lakhimpur Kheri, Isanagar, Nighasan, Palia, Gola and Mohammadi. We strictly follow all the standard sanitary protocols and social distancing norms at all these centres, which are disinfected twice daily. The Block Development Officers (BDOs) supervise the entire operation, but still, I make sure to visit each centre every day,” shares Arvind Singh.
The 2015-batch IAS officer is an IIT-IIM graduate who secured AIR 10 in the UPSC examination. He has had prior work experience as a technical researcher in South Korea and Hongkong, and admits that his awareness of the Coronavirus situation in those countries helped him become more aware of the upcoming threat in India, way before the panic spread among the masses.
Perhaps that is why Operation Kabach has attained such unprecedented success, helping out our frontline workers in the best possible way.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)