AIIMS Sanitation Chief’s Death is Tragic. Why is the World’s Largest Supplier of PPEs Unable to Protect Its Own?


AIIMS Sanitation Chief’s Death is Tragic. Why is the World’s Largest Supplier of PPEs Unable to Protect Its Own?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

AIIMS is the premier health institution of the country where the who’s who of Delhi, including India’s ministers are treated. But Heera Lal, the AIIMS Sanitation Chief was struck with Covid-19 last Tuesday and passed away yesterday in the morning. If the fact that one of our senior healthcare workers had fallen victim wasn’t a tragedy, one of the reasons behind his demise is also quite chilling. As a professional who was in constant touch with disinfection staff, cleaners and ward boys, Heera Lal, who handled the entire sanitation effort at AIIMS, didn’t have protective gear.

Heera Lal had been on duty ever since the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Kuldip Singh, General Secretary of AIIMS New Delhi SC, ST Association, lamented that the Institute only conducted a blood test on Heera Lal when he initially fell ill. “He was asked to go home and rest and come back if symptoms progress. His condition suddenly worsened two days ago and he was rushed to the emergency where he was put on ventilator support. It was too late by then. It was also only when he was brought to the emergency that his Covid-19 test was done. We are distraught,” Singh told The Tribune newspaper.

What is one to make of healthcare in remote parts of India, when the senior-most officials in India’s premier institution didn’t receive either protective equipment or the urgent and appropriate diagnosis they deserved? “People whose roles need them to engage with all kinds of potential infection sources should get priority in protective gear. We have hundreds of sanitation staffers who are constantly on the job and at risk,” Singh added.

Tributes poured in from all quarters, for the hero who didn’t miss duty even when he had been let down by the system.

Corona warrior Heera Lal ji is being cheered for the leading role he played in establishing the SC/ST employees welfare association at AIIMS.

“Heera Lal’s story surprisingly makes you think you knew him personally! It is unfortunate that these unsung heroes are out on the field without any protective gear & yet they are risking it all for us!” said Manish Chatrath, Former Chairman Delhi Tourism.

In another case in Delhi, Ambika PK , 46-year-old nurse at Kalra Hospital in Delhi succumbed to COVID-19 and her colleagues have alleged that the hospital made nurses “reuse personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves and masks”. A senior nurse at Kalra Hospital claimed, “While the doctors were given fresh PPE, the nurses were asked to reuse PPE. If we raised objections, we were told that since this is not a designated Covid-19 hospital, we are at little risk, and can reuse PPE.”

Starting from little, India has gone on to become the world’s largest supplier of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in just 60 days. In two months, the industry has grown 56 times. Over 600 companies in India are certified to produce PPE and the country today manufactures 4.5 lakh pieces of PPE a day.

It begs the question, if India has become one of the largest suppliers of PPE in the world, why aren’t they reaching our healthcare workers who need it the most?