Doctors seek clarity on AIIMS directive to re-use N-95 masks

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on April 07, 2020 Published on April 07, 2020

Raise concerns over the absence of infrastructure to disinfect masks

The Resident Doctors Association (RDA) has raised concerns with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) administration on the directive to re-use N-95 disposable masks.

In light of the paucity of personal protective equipment to tackle Covid-19, AIIMS in New Delhi has asked its doctors and healthcare workers to re-use the masks at least four times before discarding them.

The RDA has raised concerns stating that it is unacceptable that doctors and healthcare workers are being asked to disinfect the masks, without proper infrastructure in place.

No safeguards in place

“Even in the US, the FDA has approved machines that can process disinfection. The appropriate infrastructure has to be put in place first. It is dangerous to ask individuals to recycle the masks without this infrastructure in place. How will the staff handle this? Because the virus can stay on surfaces for many days, there is a risk of exposure to individuals,” Shrinivas Rajkumar, General Secretary, AIIMS RDA, told Businessline.

“One doctor from the physiology department and one healthcare worker have been infected with Covid-19 till now. While all of them are stable, the progression of the disease is slow and we need to monitor cases for a month to understand the severity,” Rajkumar added.

Previous guidelines by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had stated that disposable masks should either be burnt or buried deep inside the earth to prevent any risk of exposure.

In a circular dated April 7, DK Sharma, Medical Superintendent of AIIMS, has stated: “It is imperative that in accordance with evidence-based scientific literature, that these N95 masks are to be disinfected by individual users (by keeping them in open after use or by other methods) and re-used at least four times each, whereby these will suffice for 20 days.”

The circular has been issued with the approval of AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria.

The circular has also stated that doctors (faculty and residents) of all departments, nurses, technical staff, security guards in all patient-care areas and maintenance staff should be provided five such N-95 masks.

This implies that the AIIMS staff will have to make do with five masks for 100 days, provided each mask is reused four times in 20 days.

Paucity of equipment

On April 6, AIIMS RDA had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to say that doctors have received a backlash from government officials on issues related to availability of personal protective equipment, Covid-testing facilities and quarantine facilities on social media.

“We would be really thankful if government creates a healthy space for debate and discussion to aid healthcare workers rather than ridicule them,” the letter stated.

Meanwhile, the RDA of neighbouring Safdarjung Hospital, which is a nodal centre for treatment, isolation and quarantine of Covid-19 patients in Delhi, has appealed for 50,000 PPE kits, including Hazmat suits, an equal number of N-95 masks, up to three lakh triple-layer masks and 10,000 500 ml bottles of hand-sanitisers. The RDA has requested for donation of this material in the office of the Medical Superintendent.

The super speciality block in Safdarjung with 807 beds has been converted into a Covid-19 block.

Published on April 07, 2020

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