Task force debates sterilisation, reuse of PPEs used by health pros

Is it all right to sterilise and reuse personal protective equipment (PPE) used by doctors and health workers handling Covid-19 patients? This contentious issue is being debated as some hospitals have attempted to reuse PPE kits after decontaminat...

New Delhi: Is it all right to sterilise and reuse personal protective equipment (PPE) used by doctors and health workers handling Covid-19 patients? This contentious issue is being debated as some hospitals have attempted to reuse PPE kits after decontamination, anticipating a shortage of protective gear. “No, this is not a healthy practice, but some hospitals in the public and private sector have been experimenting with reuse of PPE, after sanitising it, despite a governmental panel advising against it,” a senior official told ET on condition of anonymity.

On May 22, one of the empowered groups set up to deal with testing and surveillance of Covid-19 advised the health ministry to “reconsider the need for such a policy (PPE sterilisation for reuse), especially if there is adequate availability of personal protective equipment”. VK Paul, member, NITI Aayog, and head of a governmental panel to fight Covid crisis, said: “It (reuse of PPE after sterilisation) is best to avoid but (PPE) can be reused after treating it with hydrogen peroxide.” Balram Bhargava, director general, Indian Council of Medical Research, said he would not like to comment on the matter.

The issue first cropped up last month when AIIMS, India’s premier medical institution, started a research project on sterilising and reusing PPE kits. Randeep Guleria, director of AIIMS, said: “One month ago, anticipating a shortage of PPE, we had done a detailed research project to see if and how PPE could be properly sterilised, and that the fabric was not harmed. A mechanism has been developed and validated by the DRDO and health ministry. However, as of now, there is no shortage… we are not reusing PPE.” The protocol to sterilise PPE kits has been put on hold, said Guleria. “This protocol is under scientific publication and has been kept on hold and is to be used only if needed,” he said. India has faced severe criticism for a shortage of PPE, especially from healthcare workers and doctors treating Covid-19 patients. By mid-May, 6.8 million PPE kits had been supplied, against a demand of 9.1million kits.


In April, AIIMS, citing a shortage of protective equipment had issued guidelines regarding the reuse of PPE. It advised that masks and overalls could be sanitised by using “doubling dilution of 11% hydrogen peroxide vapour in a sealed room while face shields and goggles can be decontaminated using 0.5% sodium hypochlorite solution and 70 per cent alcohol”. A senior AIIMS doctor said some protective equipment such as N95 masks and safety goggles was being sterilised to be used at a later stage. “We have a CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) trained biotechnologist handling this matter.

AIIMS has started decontaminating PPE on an experimental basis and is only storing it, to use at a later stage in case there is a shortage,” he said. The equipment is medically sterilised in a sealed room, with all precautions taken, but not being reused by doctors and staff in Covid wards, said the doctor. Meanwhile, according to senior officials, the empowered group also cautioned against any reduction in PPE equipment as “cases continue to increase and chances of increased hospitalisation can’t be ruled out”. There is no need for reducing the quantities being procured and the ministry should fix and achieve quantity targets for the supply of PPE, the panel advised.
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