Frontline Innovator

As Covid-19 spread and the government locked Kashmir down, Farooz Ahmad devoted his time to make face shields for the doctors and other frontline workers to enable them to protect themselves against the contagion, reports Umar Khursheed

Farooz Ahmad, a private sector employee who spent his hard earned money in making face shields for doctors and distributed them free. KL Image: Special arrangement

On the evening of March 28, when Farooz Ahmed, 28, an Anantnag resident, was watching the news, a  face shield innovated by a Srinagar based design innovator Jawaz Ahmed, grabbed his attention. Aimed at guarding the facial area and associated mucous membranes including eyes, nose and mouth from the infection, this was a must for frontline health workers.

A few days later, after identifying the items and costs involved, Ahmed purchased thick transparent plastic sheet, glue roles, rubber sheet and a tetron fabric. “It was quite hard to find such material as these are not easily available,” he said.

Ahmad succeeded in replicating Jawad’s prototype. The same afternoon, he rode his motorcycle and managed to reach District Magistrate’s Office in Anantnag. As it was not possible to meet the Deputy Commissioner as the administration was on toes holding back to back meetings. “I met ACR and other officials who despite their busy schedule listened to me,” he said.

After receiving a warm response from the officials who assured him full support in reaching to the different health facilities of the district, Ahmed was given a movement pass that he needed for the security checks.

For the next two days, he worked day and night and crafted around 100 shields. Following morning, he wore a proper protective outfit including his own shield and managed to reach the office of the District’s Disaster Management Department and Government Medical College. “I distributed 50 shields at each sector,” he said.

Shielding Doctors

Recalling one of the instances, Ahmed said on the very first day when he was coming back from the distribution he was stopped by the security men blaming him for roaming unnecessarily despite showing them the movement pass. “They caught me and I was frightened,” he said adding when he told them about his work they asked for samples for them as well.

Next time, when he left from home he took around ten extra shields to distribute at the places wherever he was stopped. “I followed the same with municipal committee employees performing duties,” he said.

Later on, when the government issued a statement that pandemic is posing more and more challenges with each passing day Ahmed made a list of more hospitals in the vicinity where he could contribute more shields.

He gave 50 shields to district’s only maternity hospital at Sheribagh, 50 each to Sub-district hospital Mattan, and Seer and 500 shields to Municipal Committee Anantnag (MCA).  “Till now I have made 2900 shields and all of it was distributed,” he said. “This has cost me around Rs 35,000, and I spent it all from my own pocket.”

A student and a part-time worker at a local footwear showroom, Ahmed said he had planned to spend his savings. Once the pandemic began worsening the situation, he took out all the money from the bank and spent on making face shields.

Besides, he said he distributed around 1000 sheets in a day when various government-run hospitals began raising the demand for an immediate supply of adequate PPE kits as COVID-19 cases rose sharply in the district. As the material supplies dried up in Anantnag, he managed it from Kulgam. “Surprisingly, the Kulgam dealer sold the same at a very less rate. This shocked me because the local shopkeepers knew I was using the material to distribute the shields free,” he said.

Amid lockdown and strict restrictions in place, it was very hectic for him to move from one district to another. “I was moved by the plight of doctors,” he said.

After returning from the distribution he would sanitize himself first and then enter his home. “Every time I came back from the distribution, I used to take a bath and change my clothes,” he said.

Covid Champions

Ahmed said he had to spend on petrol for his motorcycle and sanitizing products for himself. Ahmed has stopped making the shields now but he is prepared to make more if he gets assistance from the administration.

One of the reasons he stopped the work was that he faced many difficulties in getting the material from the market.    

Ahmed said at first when he posted a prototype of a shield on Facebook, he was criticized by many users who accused him of selling these for money. But he said he did not lose his heart but kept going. “Many times even some of my friends texted me personally saying how much  I am being paid,” he said.

On April 24, when National Institute Technology (NIT) declared the result of Covid-19 Open Innovation Challenge, Ahmed also won the prize in face shield category.

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