'There must not be more victims’: Indonesian volunteers and businesses unite to produce protective gear

'There must not be more victims’: Indonesian volunteers and businesses unite to produce protective gear

Indonesia's cloth face masks producers
Workers at Mdm Nur Falak's garment factory in Solo, Indonesia, making cloth face masks. (Photo courtesy of Nur Falak)

JAKARTA:  When a 34-year-old doctor with COVID-19 passed away in Indonesia about two weeks ago, many were taken by surprise that a young adult had succumbed to the disease.

The death came as a shocking news to Bandung installation artist Bagus Pandega, as the doctor was his high school friend.

Mr Pandega decided to produce face shields for medical workers after learning that the doctor was tending to regular patients and not COVID-19 patients in particular. It was assumed that the doctor could have unknowingly handled a COVID-19 patient without protection. 

Healthcare workers in Indonesia, like those in many other countries, are in dire need of personal protective equipment (PPE). Analysts claimed the lack of equipment has caused the deaths of at least 10 paramedics in the country as of Friday.

“My high school friends and I thought, this cannot continue. There must not be more victims …” Mr Pandega told CNA.

They raised funds to purchase PPE, but there were insufficient stocks. Since Mr Pandega majored in sculpture art, he has the materials needed to make face shields, the first layer of face protection. 

“I took the initiative to produce face shields. It is faster than buying the gear and since there are many tailors, handymen in the country, a lot of things can be done at home,” he said.

What started off as a one-man show just a week ago has now become a production team of about 15 people scattered across Bandung, Jakarta, Semarang and Surabaya.

READ: COVID-19: Concerns among some Indonesian hospitals over availability of medical equipment

Each person has a different task, from taking care of the 3D printing to distributing the end products. Armed with 3D printers and materials such as acrylic shield, polylactide and polycarbonate, they have produced about 60 face shields for hospitals in Bandung.

The group works for free but accepts donations to buy the materials.

About 60 hospitals across Indonesia have requested for the face shields, said Mr Pandega whose day job has been set aside for now as exhibitions are not allowed to be held since the pandemic broke out.

READ: The 79-year-old Indonesian doctor on the frontline of COVID-19 pandemic

READ: From athlete’s village to hotel, Indonesian government prepares makeshift facilities for COVID-19

On Monday (Mar 30), President Joko Widodo said that Indonesia needs about three million PPE until the end of May.

As of early April, however, the country has distributed less than 500,00 PPE across the archipelago of 260 million people.

Mr Widodo appealed for more PPE to be produced locally, adding that there are about 28 manufacturers in Indonesia.

Indonesia has the highest COVID death toll in Southeast Asia with at least 170 deaths, and also one of the highest mortality rates in the world at about 8 per cent.

WOMEN COMMUNITY LENDS A HELPING HAND

Since PPE is scarce, a hospital in Solo city, Central Java province, has decided to produce its own hazmat suit.

Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo has applauded the move and encouraged small- and medium-size entreprises (SMEs) to follow suit. 

This has inspired Mdm Irma Sustika, the founder of Womanpreneur Community, to mobilise the SMEs in her circle to produce coveralls.

Indonesia's Womanpreneur Community
Members of Womanpreneur Community in Bekasi city producing coveralls for medical workers. (Photo courtesy of Womanpreneur Community)

Since 2010, the non-governmental organisation has empowered about 15,000 women to start their own company. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of its members are struggling with their businesses, which prompted Mdm Sustika to encourage the garment producers to switch to making PPE.

“When we saw images of medical workers covered in raincoats, that’s really when we thought, on my god, we must do something,” she said.

READ: Jakarta police tracking down mastermind behind illegal surgical mask factory

The community has been getting requests from health clinics all over Indonesia to produce hazmat suits. About 25 SMEs from several cities have signed up for the cause.

“This is a global disaster. We cannot act on our own. We must unite and work together,” she said.

Indonesian hazmat suit
A prototype of a coverall produced by Womanpreneur Community. (Photo courtesy of Womanpreneur Community)

They are targeting to make 10,000 suits. They did some research to ensure that their coveralls are suitable.

“We are talking about medical needs. We don’t want the medical staff to change from raincoats to wearing materials which are even worse,” she said.

NEW PRODUCTION LINE PREVENTS LAYOFFS

Solo-based Mdm Nur Falak, 47, has also switched her production line from making clothes to producing cloth face masks.

It was an unplanned venture, she told CNA.

“There was simply no job. With the current situation, department stores and malls where I used to distribute our clothes are closed and there are no orders at all,” she said.

She started making cloth face masks for her family, and her younger sister asked her to make more for a friend who could not find surgical masks anywhere.

Amanda Garment cloth face mask
Workers of Amanda Garment producing cloth face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Nur Falak)

She sold the cloth masks at 10,000 rupiah (US$0.60) a piece and all of a sudden, requests for the masks started coming in.

“Now I accept whatever requests I get. I’m also starting to receive requests to make hazmat suits for medical workers,” the owner of Amanda Garment said.

Mdm Falak is not the only cloth face mask producer in the country, as many have done the same when surgical masks are out of stock.

READ: Indonesians seek to get tested for COVID-19 as tally rises; govt says unnecessary to test everyone

A pulmonologist explained in a press conference on Wednesday that healthy people can wear these masks, provided they maintain a 1m to 2m distance from each other.

“However, they are not suitable for medical workers,” said Dr Erlina Burhan from Jakarta’s Persahabatan Hospital, one of the COVID-19 referral hospitals.

With the new products, Mdm Falak is able to pay all of her 45 workers, even though the current situation is still unpredictable.

She hoped the pandemic will be over soon. “Only then I can guarantee that my workers still have a job,” she said. 

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Source: CNA/ks

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