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COVID-19 battle: Global tender floated to buy protective gear

HLL Lifecare is the nodal agency for acquiring PPE for those tackling the coronavirus outbreak. Healthcare workers weren’t too impressed at the speed with which it has been moving. The last date for receipt of bids is April 15, by which time the current lockdown is scheduled to end.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Mar 30, 2020, 09.11 AM IST
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Protective gear
An HLL official said Indian manufacturers don’t have the capacity to supply PPE gear in the required volume, hence the need to float a global tender.
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New Delhi: State-owned HLL Lifecare Ltd has floated a global tender seeking personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare personnel at the frontline of the battle against Covid-19. India is short of coveralls, masks, gloves and other items, as are other countries.

HLL Lifecare is the nodal agency for acquiring PPE for those tackling the coronavirus outbreak. Healthcare workers weren’t too impressed at the speed with which it has been moving. The last date for receipt of bids is April 15, by which time the current lockdown is scheduled to end.

"Didn’t the government see this coming? We are working under acute shortage of masks and coveralls and the government has woken up now to procure?" said a doctor working in a government hospital in Delhi.

India wants 1 million coveralls and goggles, 4 million N-95 masks, 2 million nitrile gloves, 600,000 face shield and 2 million triple-layer surgical masks among other items, according to the March 24 tender document, which ET has seen.

Experts asked why a tender was being floated when protective gear is required on a war footing. Many also don’t expect too many responses given the global nature of the health crisis and said the delay in getting protective equipment puts India’s healthcare workers at great risk.

"May be HLL has forgotten that the crisis is global. Unless the tender is cosmetic and it has already finalised deals, it is bound to fail as no one has time or interest to enter into a tender right now," said Malini Aisola, co-convenor, All India Drugs Action Network (AIDAN), a non-government organisation.

An HLL official said Indian manufacturers don’t have the capacity to supply PPE gear in the required volume, hence the need to float a global tender.

"We thought we would not require such huge quantities," he said. "As of now 8-10 Indian manufacturers are on board and the decision to float a global tender was taken as we found that Indian manufacturers cannot fulfil the demand." HLL expects suppliers in China, South Korea and Singapore to participate.

An official at an Indian PPE manufacturer queried the procurement schedule.

"It is strange that they are floating tenders at the time of a health crisis, waiting for bids, waiting till mid of April," he said.

The government wasn’t able to estimate the demand for PPE kits and components on the basis of rational quantification, as recommended by World Health Organisation (WHO), to protect healthcare workers. The WHO had in February called on industry and governments to increase manufacturing by 40% to meet rising global demand.

The government’s containment plan document provides a guide to the PPE requirement. Containment of a cluster, lasting a month or two for a population of 100,000, may require 2 million triple-layer masks, 200,000 gloves, 100,000 N-95 masks and about 50,000 PPE kits. "The foregoing number is to illustrate that state need to have a rate contract and assured supply for these items," it said.

India has ramped up local production, said Lav Aggarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry.

"Required action is being taken," he said. "Yesterday, one shipment came with PPEs, masks, ventilators. We have actually been upgrading our response, keeping in view the situation."

Aisola expressed concerns over HLL’s markup.

"Recent events over the last few weeks have cast a dark cloud over HLL for not following transparent processes to procure PPE," she said. "Questions arise about why a public sector company should be making such a huge profit on supplying government health institutions during a national health crisis."

HLL said it’s only charging a procurement charge of 5% and will pass on "higher operational expenses" to buyers.

"We don’t want to make losses with regard to logistics," said the HLL executive cited above. "If the operational costs increase, we will pass it over the hospital we are supplying to. We can’t do anything about it. Due to lockdown the operational cost has increased."

(Catch all the Business News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on The Economic Times.)

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