Local production of personal protective equipment (PPE) gained momentum yesterday after a joint initiative got approval from the government about the design and fabrics in a development that would boost morale of the health professionals fighting the coronavirus.
Five garment factories yesterday started producing the PPE under a joint initiative of Pay It Forward, the Manush Manusher Jonno Foundation, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), British retail giant Marks & Spencer, the Arunachal Trust, and the Buet Alumni Association.
The initiative got an approval from the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) to make the PPE, Navidul Huq, a coordinator of the initiative from the BGMEA, said.
"We are hopeful that we can start distribution of the PPE to hospitals for doctors and nurses from Saturday. We will also distribute the items to other organisations and individuals gradually," said Mohammad Wahid Hossain, executive chairman of Pay It Forward.
"Initially, we will produce 50,000 pieces. We will distribute all of them free of cost," he told The Daily Star by phone.
The initiative plans to produce at least five lakh pieces of PPE.
The five factories are: Urmi Group, Snowtex, Aman Group, Dekko Group and Smartex Group.
Urmi Group said it would not make any profit from making the PPE because people need the safety gears urgently. It will only take fabric charge as it will have to buy the raw materials, said its Managing Director Asif Ashraf.
Snowtex, another leading garment exporter, said it started manufacturing PPE yesterday.
"I will produce 50,000 pieces initially," said SM Khaled, managing director of the company.
"Of the quantity, I will distribute 17,000 pieces free of cost," he said, adding that he would not make any profit from making the PPE.
There is a lot of work orders from companies and organisations to make the PPE. Banks and hospitals have already placed orders with Snowtex, said Khaled.
The production cost is around Tk 600 per PPE, Huq said, adding that a team from the BGMEA is coordinating the production and distribution of the PPE.
From next week, at least eight more factories will join the effort in producing PPE, according to Huq.
In Chattogram, Smart Jacket (BD) Ltd, a manufacturer in the Chattogram Export Processing Zone, is making one lakh sets of surgical jackets for doctors to combat the coronavirus after receiving orders from the health ministry.
The company, a concern of Smart Group of Industries, had ready items of 50,000 sets of surgical jackets in its stock and it delivered the items to the government on Tuesday afternoon.
Another 20,000 sets of jackets, produced by the company's 2,000 workers within a day, were sent to Dhaka through three trucks yesterday, officials said.
"We regularly manufacture surgical jackets for an American buyer. The health ministry on Monday asked us to produce one lakh sets and after receiving the order, we delivered 50,000 sets," Mujibur Rahman, a director of the company, told The Daily Star.
"Our workers are very happy to be able to contribute to the nation in this crucial moment," he said, adding that factory workers are also interested to work even two shifts if needed.
Shahana Khatun, a worker of the factory, said, "We have so far worked for foreign buyers and this will benefit our country indirectly. Now, it seems like I'm working for my country and it will probably save thousands of people from coronavirus. It's a different feeling."
The health ministry has asked Smart Jacket (BD) to make as many jackets as possible, Rahman said.
"We are not concerned about the profit for this consignment since it is an urgent need for the country," he said, adding that the health ministry assured it of bearing the manufacturing cost.
As of Monday, there were around 2 lakh PPEs in stock and the consignment of another 2 lakh PPEs, procured from different countries, would arrive this month, said Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque.
The ministry is distributing 20,000 to 30,000 PPEs a day to hospitals across the countries.
As the number of people dying from the deadly virus rose, the government has taken measures to prepare the country's health professionals to tackle it.
The National Board of Revenue has withdrawn all forms of import duties and taxes to encourage quick import of PPEs, raw materials used in hand sanitisers, coronavirus testing kits and re-agents.
Health workers need PPEs because if they don't wear the gears they are at increased risk of getting infected by the virus and spreading it to other patients.
Health workers' demand for PPE rose sharply after the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in the country.
Many public hospitals across the country set up isolation units for possible coronavirus patients but they had a dearth of necessary resources and equipment. As a result, doctors, nurses and hospital staffers were finding it hard to keep working, experts say.