Nurses at NHAK given mouldy govt-supplied N95 masks

Nurses at NHAK given mouldy govt-supplied N95 masks
Nurses at NHAK given mouldy govt-supplied N95 masks

(Left) The PPEs supplied to the hospital were manufactured in 2007. Its usability would depend on the conditions under which they were stored. (Right) One of the N95 masks provided to the Naga Hospital Kohima with fungal infestation.


AtonoTsükrü Kense
Kohima | April 14

Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world over has been facing acute shortages of Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) endangering health workers, who are at the forefront.

In India’s Nagaland state, health workers are facing a similar predicament, if not worse, with limited access to PPEs, which include gloves, masks, protective glasses, gowns, shoe covers et cetera.

With the first confirmed COVID-19 case reported from the state, the need for stable supply of robust protective suits has become paramount. Following initial delay and heightened anxiety, the situation brightened as much needed equipments have been flown in by the Indian Air Force courtesy the Government of India. 

However, the sense of relief turned to utter dismay as the condition of PPEs flown in was far from reassuring. As shown to a team of news persons today at the Naga Hospital, Kohima, N95 masks provided to nurses at the designated COVID-19 Hospital were ridden with what appeared to be fungal infestation and as old as 13 years. 

As per the packaging, it was manufactured by a New Delhi-based company and supplied by the government. January 2007 was the packaging year and had no disclaimer as to indicate shelf life.

A nurse on duty said that they have not used the masks provided after seeing its mucky condition and are compelled to wear the normal duty gowns. According to her, the hospital received 15 N95 masks on March 23 and 14 more on March 27. 

As the hospital attends to suspected COVID-19 patients, the nurse said they are in dire need of good quality PPEs. While stating that the nurses have become hesitant to work, she added that they have complained to the hospital authority but are yet to receive fresh supplies.

When contacted, a doctor on condition of anonymity commented that the PPE would be “ok” to wear depending on where and how it was stored. Nevertheless, he said, "If it is government supply, it is the duty of our government to check the manufacture date.”

But then, “Something is better than nothing in this situation,” he said, while adding that the government may have no choice but utilize due to financial problems.

A person, who is familiar with medical supplies trade, was of the opinion that old PPEs can be used. However, its usability would depend on the environmental condition of the place it was kept in. On the supplied masks with fungal infestation, he said that it would be wise to not use such masks. 

“These PPEs (as per the packaging) were manufactured somewhere around 2007. What outbreak was there in India at the time?” he posed. 

Meanwhile, Dr Sentimeren Ao, Senior Specialist (Anesthesia), NHAK informed that whatever consignments it has received has been from the Government of India, and hoped that the equipments marked ‘ISO’ are genuine.

He remarked that it cannot be guaranteed that PPEs will provide 100 percent protection. Keeping in mind the highly contagious nature of the virus, he added the NHAK and core team for COVID-19 has agreed on “indigenous improvisations” as it cannot entirely rely on what has been supplied.

An executive of a PPE manufacturing firm, when contacted by The Morung Express, said that “he would not recommend anyone using the (mouldy) PPEs” as it has been more than a decade post production. 

The standard shelf life of a 3M N95 face mask, according to the United States National Institute for Operational Safety and Health (NIOSH), is five years from production date.