"Masks will become a symbol of a civilised society. If you want to protect yourselves and others from the disease, the use of a mask is important," PM Narendra Modi had said in his address to the nation via the radio programme Mann Ki Baat.
A ten-member core team from Delhi is working to take his message forward. Their aim - to procure and distribute a million masks to aid those working in the informal sector fight COVID-19. The MaskForIndia platform also involves volunteers working from different cities across India and the world to ensure the fulfillment of this grand dream.
Speaking to The New Indian Express, Rajashree Padmanabhi, one of the founders of the website said, "The idea came about when we first wanted to buy a mask almost around mid-March. Everyone was panic buying either N95 or surgical masks. Nobody was sure how it would help. I was interested in knowing more, so I started doing my research.
"The advisory from WHO, ICMR and even the ministry was vague and contradictory. But as the science around it started getting clearer, we thought why not start an awareness campaign. Our health systems are in such a shambles, even those who are educated and resourceful are finding it difficult to get authentic information. That is why we decided to pursue this further.
"Then came the idea of bridging the gap between the supply and demand of cotton, reusable masks. Early on, we had recognised that mask making can be a viable livelihood option for many during these times of distress. We are all working professionals. So, it wasn't feasible to get into mask making ourselves. So, our small contribution is to help get visibility for NGOs which are making masks and identify demand in their areas," she explained.
The 10-member group, spread out in Germany and Netherlands as well, works with a network of 50 NGOs, corporations and organisations that either need masks or can provide one.
The platform helps bridge the gap between NGOs, their donors and those who need masks, people like you, me and especially those employed in the informal sector.
The scientific theory is clear that the reusable cotton masks or any masks - homemade or store-bought - will be effective only when all the other measures like social distancing and hand hygiene are followed.
Certain precautions need to be followed while using and storing masks every day as well for them to be effective, like not to touch the masks while wearing them in public.
How does Mask For India work?
The 10-member team is in touch over WhatsApp and calls with NGOs based out of different regions in Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, and Delhi. The team seeks details of what an NGO requires. For instance, encouraging local employment, production capacity or fixing the price per mask.
The support is provided on a case-to-case basis. As an example, if an NGO is not able to procure cloth, MaskforIndia tries to connect it with local shops or textile manufacturers in their area.
Largely dependent on social media, MaskForIndia creates content for Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and even WhatsApp.
Waiting for the lockdown to end, the representatives want to distribute printed material to NGOs engaged in the distribution of masks. This will have details of the precautions to be undertaken while making, using and storing cotton masks. The website currently features a manual on mask making in 14 different languages.
Funding, the current challenge
MaskForIndia, thanks to the 40-plus days long lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic, is short of funds.
Rajashree, who works at the Climate Policy Initiative in Delhi, explains the NGOs which are getting these masks made are employing several women and tailors, who are out of jobs. Many of these NGOs are largely counting on donors. But since there's no specific funding for masks or sanitary kits, the NGOs are left with limited resources.
The team emphasises that the healthcare personnel, in particular, must be provided with a safe and secure working environment.
"It’s the responsibility of the state as the scale of the problem at hand is humongous. Charity and philanthropic support is only a temporary solution. In Jharkhand and Bihar, the governments are working with the state livelihood programmes and women-centric NGOs to procure masks in bulk. We need to see that level of commitment from other states too," says Prajakta Nakate, initiative coordinator with Mask for India.