Mask imports go up, thanks to swine flu scare

By Richa Sharma, IANS,

New Delhi : Cashing in on the swine flu scare in some parts of India, the few companies manufacturing it in the country have increased production while imports of the N95 face mask have also gone up.

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“The supply of N95 masks has increased three-fold over the last three months compared to normal times. We have taken steps to import and supply eight times the usual quantity since the pandemic surfaced in India,” Nagaraj M., vice president (safety, security and protection services), 3M India Limited, told IANS.

US-based 3M is one of the leading manufacturers of the N95 respirators. At a global level, the company has announced an investment of $20 million to increase its global production capacity by 10 percent.

“In order to ensure constant supply and to reduce shipment time, we are airlifting respirators from our global sourcing centres in the US, Europe and Asia. We are supplying the product through multiple channels so that it reaches all the people at risk, including healthcare workers, hospital staff, first responders and the general public,” said Nagaraj.

Three types of face masks — single-layered (surgical mask), three-layered and the N95 — are available in the market. According to doctors, N95 masks are the safest.

“The N95 masks are considered to be the best as they offer 95 percent protection from the virus,” Randeep Guleria, head of medicine at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told IANS.

Thea-Tex Healthcare, an N95 mask manufacturing company based in India, has also geared up to meet the demand.

“There has been a massive increase in the demand for face masks and we have diverted all our resources in manufacturing N95 masks,” said a company official who sought anonymity.

The manufacturing companies are working closely with the government and healthcare institutions to deal with the H1N1 pandemic.

“We are working closely with the government and have been supplying face masks to them as best as possible to meet this extraordinary and unusual demand. In addition we are working closely with the state governments by helping them prepare for pandemic situations and to educate and build awareness about it,” said Nagaraj.

3M supplies four different types of N95 respirators in India. The price of the N95 respirators varies from Rs.44 to Rs.227.

“While all of them conform to the N95 standard, they differ in terms of construction and features specific to usage,” he said.

“For example, respirators featuring valves are intended for health workers to allow them to wear them for longer durations and ensure comfort but respirators without valves are intended for patients to prevent them from spreading the virus while exhaling.”

Nagaraj warns that under no circumstances should an attempt be made to clean or wash a disposable respirator.

“Masks should be disposed of after use unless directed otherwise and it is recommended that they be replaced once they have been taken off after exposure to a contaminated environment,” Nagaraj added.

India has so far reported 22 swine flu deaths while the H1N1 virus has affected nearly 1,100 people.

(Richa Sharma can be contacted at [email protected])