Did We Send Protective Gear to Serbia as Our Doctors Fight Coronavirus with Raincoats & Helmets?


Did We Send Protective Gear to Serbia as Our Doctors Fight Coronavirus with Raincoats & Helmets?

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

Last evening, a tweet posted by the Serbian wing of the United Nations Development Programme, set off a fierce debate back home in India.

According to the post, the Serbian government said it had received nearly 90 tonnes of “medical protective equipment” from suppliers in different parts of India. This announcement was made even as doctors back home complain of a critical shortfall in surgical supplies, and confirmed Covid-19 cases continue to spike.

In Kolkata, junior doctors at a coronavirus treatment facility were given plastic raincoats to examine patients, Reuters reported. In Haryana, medics are using bike helmets because of the shortage of N95 masks.

On Monday, the Centre said it was trying to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) from South Korea and China.

As our medical professionals put their lives on the line amid alleged shortage of medical gear, the export of PPE to Serbia has created quite a stir. It remains unclear what the exported equipment comprises.

Hours after the news broke, the Joint Secretary in the Union Health Ministry, Luv Agrawal, held a press conference to address the issue. However, his initial statement didn’t do much to calm frayed nerves. “I am not aware of this. I will check and revert with details,” he said, to much outrage on social media.

Opposition leaders, too, spoke out, with Member of Parliament from the Congress party  Manish Tewari leading the charge. He called sending equipment to another country amid the pandemic criminal.

A couple of days before this delivery, according to an NDTV report, another lot of medical supplies had been sent to Serbia from Kerala. That 30-tonne consignment included 35 lakh pairs of sterile gloves, and was sent to Belgrade on a Transaviaexport Airlines cargo freighter, the site reported, following up on a tweet posted by the Cochin customs department.

Even as the health ministry promises to look into these claims, India Today TV quoted a source as saying that none of the items sent to Serbia fall under the “prohibited list” laid down by the Commerce and Industries Ministry’s guidelines. “We have not exported anything from the prohibited list. However, items on the ‘restricted list’ can be sent on a case to case basis depending on government policies, decisions, prior commitments after assessing info about availability, storage, prod capacity, and anticipated demand,” the site quoted the source as saying.

It also quotes an official as saying that there are 35 units with a total installed capacity of 100 million pairs in a month, “but never worked in full capacity because of poor demand and import of cheap gloves from Malaysia and China.” This led to a few social media users concluding that the move would actually benefit rubber farmers in India.

The debate will continue to rage on. Let’s just hope that once the blame game subsidies, someone will spare a thought for our doctors and nurses.