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This Manipur family is making free masks, face shields for Covid-19 frontline workers

Written by Jimmy Leivon
| Imphal |

Updated: April 18, 2020 4:15:59 pm

The Longjam family. (Source: Jimmy Leivon)

Manipur, just like other states in India, is also strictly enforcing the nationwide lockdown ever since a 23 year-old-girl tested positive for Covid-19 on March 24. In addition to the lockdown, curfew was also imposed to keep people from venturing out of their homes.

Despite the lockdown, a family of 12 in Keisamthong Elangbam Leikai in Imphal West district of Manipur has proven that it is possible to join the fight against Covid-19 pandemic by staying at home.

Led by two sisters, Angana and Nivedita, the Longjam family is keeping themselves busy during the lockdown by making protective gears such as face masks, face shields and caps, which are donated to those working at the frontline combating the spread of Covid-19.

The two sisters, who are NIFT Mumbai alumnus, run a design house ‘ANA & NIV’ from their home at Keishamthong. While they had to shutdown their design house due to the lockdown, they decided to use up the leftover fabric to make masks for family, friends, and neighbours.

But what started out as a humble initiative to help a handful of people around them, is now reaching out to those at the frontline fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

Till now, the family has donated more than 100 face shields, 500 face masks and around 50 caps (head cover) so far to Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS), other health centres, police, ambulance service providers among others. RIMS and JNIMS have got dedicated wards for Covid-19 patients.

“Initially, what we had in our minds was to distribute masks to our neighbours and people of our locality. But, after report of the first COVID-19 case, things changed. We realised that those at the frontline needs to be well equippe,” said Nivedita Longjam.

Angana Longjam said it all began with an update on their Facebook page seeking contribution of raw materials from those willing to help. The post apparently attracted the attention of many people and the word spread.

Eventually, a lady doctor working at the JNIMS hospital suggested them to experiment with making a face shield.

“Our aunt Mamata who is a nurse at JNIMS brought a video forwarded by the doctor on how to make the shield. Though it was tougher than making the mask and cap, we managed to replicate the shield with whatever we had,” said Angana.

As there was an immediate requirement of protective gear at the hospital, Mamata introduced the masks and shields for a trial run. Impressed by their work, particularly the face shield, RIMS and JNIMS authorities have issued a letter of appreciation for the sisters.

Ch Arunkumar, medical superintendent at RIMS, said that the face shields donated by the sisters have been very useful. “The shield is a must when the doctors come in close contact with the positive patient,” he said.

Arunkumar said that the authority is actively considering to order around 100 face shields to be prepared for any eventuality.

The face shield will be most beneficial as there is a greater risk of bodily fluids reaching the doctor during surgery, observed the medical superintendent. It is learnt that the Personnel Protection Equipment (PPE) suit currently used by health professionals has no face shield.

Subsequently, with rising demand for protective gears from various quarters, it’s all hands on deck for the Longjam family.

While the womenfolk mainly involved in stitching and cutting clothes to make masks, the male members, especially the two uncles, Longjam Tikendrajit and Longjam Chiran, make the component of the shields.

Interestingly, the basic foundation of the face shield, which is the curve, was initially made from used paint containers lying around the house. But as the stock ran out, they are now turning to their friends, running gyms or those in the bodybuilding profession, to contribute their empty protein powder containers. The curve helps in ensuring protection by allowing to cover the whole face.

“Making protective gears has become our family affairs. Some people are finding it hard to spend their times during the lockdown but in our case, we have a good excuse to stay home. Sometimes we have to stay up till late in the night to meet the demand. We are very glad that we are also helping the warriors in their fight against the virus from home,” said Longjam Tikendrajit.

The family said they are unable to meet the growing demand due to shortage of raw material and transportation hurdles.

Bapin Kumar, deputy Medical Superintendent of JNIMS, said that we intend to order the face shield in bulk but the girls turned down the offer as they did not have enough material.

“Our raw materials are mostly contribution by our friends and other individuals. It is through donation of raw materials by other individuals we could carry on with our work. Even after the donors were ready to donate, there was the problem of the transportation of raw materials due to the lockdown,” said Angana.

Recently, the Officer in-charge of Imphal West police, P Achouba, has delivered the materials for the two sisters from their donors after they ran out of stock. In return, the sisters also donated around 60 face masks for his team.

Nivedita said that even though they can produce 50 masks and around 40 face shields per day, they are now confining to need-based manufacturing. The girls have also created their own video on how to make the protective gears, particularly the face shield, and shared it online.

Inspired by the work of the two sisters, Elangbam and Mayengbam households in the locality have also started manufacturing the face shields from using raw material available at their homes.

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