Unmasked: TB hospital in Mumbai neglects workers' safety

As several employees at the Sewri hospital fall prey to the deadly disease, they allege that the authorities aren't providing the mandatory N-95 masks to protect them from the infection

The Sewri hospital receives as many as 25,000 patients every year, increasing the risk of exposure for workers. File pic
The Sewri hospital receives as many as 25,000 patients every year, increasing the risk of exposure for workers. File pic

In the past five years, at least 25 employees at the Sewri TB hospital have lost their lives to the deadly disease. Tragic as these deaths are, they could have been avoided if the hospital had just provided staffers with the protective N-95 masks that were made mandatory by the central government. After giving them inadequate protection, the hospital is now scrambling to mask its negligence, claiming that the allegations being levelled against it are baseless.

Thin defence
While the Union government had made N-95 masks mandatory for TB hospitals a long time ago, it was only last year that the Sewri hospital finally promised that its employees would get a regular supply.

As one the biggest TB facilities, this hospital receives as many as 25,000 patients from across the country every year, which increases the risk of exposure for workers. The management had promised it would provide at least 10,000 N-95 masks every month to ensure protection for its 1,000-plus staff. Sadly, the promise remained only on paper.

Presently, the hospital mostly provides surgical masks to the staffers. These are single-layer masks, primarily meant for use during surgeries; these do not provide sufficient protection against the highly communicable tuberculosis (TB). In comparison, the N-95 mask is a cup-shaped protector that covers the nose and mouth tightly. As per the FDA, this mask is effective in blocking at least 95% particles and microbes as tiny as 0.3 micron.

Horror story
"The surgical masks provided to employees are not of good quality. The Centre is supposed to provide the N-95 masks. The employees were supposed to be given masks every day, but hardly 100 employees get it on a regular basis," said Ashok Jadhav from the Municipal Mazdoor Union.

This negligence towards employees is all pervasive — apart from the Class IV workers, like cleaners, even the doctors and nurses are forced to work with infected patients without the proper protective gear, added Jadhav.

As if this isn't scary enough, one of the mortuary workers said, "We are not even provided basic masks, forget the N-95 masks. Every day, we face the risk of getting infected as well."

The other side
Dr Jagdish Keni, medical superintendent at the hospital, said, “We are providing N-95 masks to all employees as per the instructions. The masks are provided by the central government. The claims made by the hospital employees are fake.”

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