Healthcare professional Shailesh Wagle is reaching out to his brethren, other healthcare workers, in Mumbai and Thane to make sure that they are safe during the vulnerable times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the pandemic caught everyone off guard, amongst the most vulnerable people were the healthcare workers. Having little to no prior experience of how to deal with a pandemic, the healthcare workers found themselves in the line of fire. Shailesh, a public healthcare professional and a part of the NGO United Way Mumbai, was amongst the first who sensed the need to be of assistance to this community of frontline workers, when the news of the pandemic broke.

Before the lockdown was announced, Shailesh conducted training programs for NGO personnel and offices about safeguarding oneself against the virus. In order to equip the hospitals and staff, they reached out to the public health departments and assessed their on-ground needs. Ever since the lockdown, he has been working to coordinate supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), N95 masks and gloves to Government and Municipal Corporation run hospitals in Mumbai and Thane. He visits hospitals every day, assesses their requirements and delivers supplies. He has also been conducting training sessions for the staff of public hospitals, to help them understand COVID-19 and its prevention. He demonstrates how to correctly wear the protective gear, precautions to be taken and how healthcare workers can safeguard themselves and others. “Once we had the requirements in place, we ensured that the material sourced was of the standard quality. We also explained how to use as well as dispose these materials to the healthcare workers. We started with five hospitals and are currently working with twelve more hospitals to supply the materials. We have given all the gear for free, and have recently also organized a fund-raising activity to raise the money for the same.”

Each day, a five-member team works on-ground and is supported by an additional four-member team who works from home, to source the materials. “As on date, we have provided more than 30,000 PPE kits, 60,000 plus N95 masks, 2.5 lakh plus three-ply masks and 900 liters of alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has been procured from different vendors. We are hoping to build on this, going forward.”

With Maharashtra being the worst hit as far as the COVID-19 crisis is concerned, Shailesh and the team on-ground has been living away from their families for several weeks in order to protect them from exposure. While they ensure that they use hand sanitizers and wear the N95 masks and gloves, they also ensure that their clothes are washed separately to avoid any infection. “We also maintain social distance from doctors, do not go into patient treatment areas, and ensure that the people who are delivering the material to us are thermally screened and also wear masks.”

Speaking about the challenges the team has faced, Shailesh explains, “There was a lot of misconception and wrong information floating around initially. Finding standard quality of material was also an issue initially as the Indian Council of Medical Research had set quality standards for these. As there are very few manufacturers who had the experience of making the PPE’s and mask, getting them ready and then transporting to Mumbai was another challenge. While most of this is streamlined now, we are facing shortage of labor with workers migrating.” For someone who took on the responsibility and onus of ensuring that quality material reaches the frontline healthcare workers to help them treat the patients, Shailesh was clear that the doctors working around the clock needed to be protected first.  “Seeing how the medical staff has been working tirelessly and selflessly during the call of duty, we have been inspired to do all that we can for the medical staff.”

Lending a helping hand to those hands that help cure patients is certainly commendable and Shailesh has been selflessly leading from the front, while also setting an example that is worth emulating.