Personal protective equipment (PPE) – for doctors, nurses and patients – is now being made of tissue fabric normally used to produce shopping bags.
Some PPE is being made of the fabric used to manufacture umbrellas and shirts.
Questions are being raised about the medical-grade quality of the PPE being made across the capital.
Experts say according to the World Health Organization's guidelines, it is risky for health if quality is not maintained while making PPE.
Hakim Bedding Store at DIT Road, Malibagh – which generally makes quilts, mattresses, mosquito nets, and curtains year-round– is now making PPE.
In such an emergency situation due to the coronavirus pandemic, the shop is now making PPE for the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDRB) with tissue fabric used to make shopping bags.
MA Hakim Sarowar, proprietor of the store, told The Business Standard, "ICDDRB has contracted us to prepare 6,500 PPE suits, on an urgent basis, at a cost of Tk500 per piece."
Doctors, nurses and staff of ICDDRB will use the PPE while dealing with coronavirus cases.
He said they have collected the tissue fabric from the city's Islampur.
Habib Tailors at the city's Nayapaltan is doing the same work. Instead of making shirts and pants as they usually do, the tailors are now busy preparing PPE. The tailors have received orders from different shops at the BMA Market to make 8,000 PPE suits. The tailors are using the fabric meant for making umbrellas and shopping bags.
The Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA) Market is the best in the country for selling medical equipment. Different types of clothing are being sold here as PPE. They are actually aprons or rain coats that have been prepared with fabrics usually used for making shirts and umbrellas.
During a visit on Wednesday, people were seen crowding to buy such aprons or rain coats for hospitals or personal use.
Enamul Haque, owner of SS Surgical Enterprise at BMA Market, told The Business Standard, "They are selling a complete set of PPE – including an apron, a pair of gloves, a pair of large stockings, a cap, and a pant – for up to Tk3,500."
"Fabrics for making such safety equipment are usually imported. A major part comes from China. These fabrics are also produced in our country on a limited scale. However, for the last three months, no fabrics were imported to make PPE," said Rashedul Haque, owner of Modern Medical Store at the market.
He said, "Now, we are purchasing fabrics from Islampur and then making PPE at tailors or bedding stores."
They supply the products to different hospitals, he said, adding that the cost is a bit high due rising demand.
Dewan Murad Hossain, manager of Anabil Medical and Diagnostic Centre at the city's Jatrabari, went to BMA Market to buy PPE but he did not buy the substandard PPE from there.
Emerging from the market, Murad said, "PPE available at the market is in no way up to the mark. That is why we are planning to make the safety items on our own."
Experts said PPE for doctors and nurses must be resistant to liquids such as blood and chemicals and single-use.
Professor Nazrul Islam, former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said according to the WHO guidelines the PPE fabric must meet a specific standard.
"However, if the quality is not met, there will be risk of infection. The equipment made of the fabric meant to produce shirts, umbrellas and shopping bags can in no way be called PPE," he added.
A senior official at the Directorate General of Health Services seeking to remain anonymous, said, "A good quantity of donated PPE has been in their stock to provide to hospitals, however, its quality is very poor."
"That PPE is actually for cleaners, not for physicians. The health directorate is confused about distributing it among doctors," he added.
According to the WHO guidelines, a set of PPE includes a mask, gown, cap, goggles, a hearing device, safety gloves and safety shoes that are resistant to viruses and bacteria. The mask must be breathing-friendly.
Dr AZM Zahid, secretary general of Doctors Association of Bangladesh, said physicians might be infected with coronavirus if they do not have proper safety equipment while dealing with Covid-19 patients.
According to a WHO survey, one tenth of Covid-19 patients are those who were engaged in providing treatment to coronavirus patients.