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Thanks to SARS, facemask companies flourish

With people scrambling to cover their faces with masks to escape the virus, the cash registers of facemask makers are ringing louder than ever.

india Updated: May 05, 2003 13:35 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

One Indian industry is not complaining about SARS.

With hundreds of thousands of people in Asian countries scrambling to cover
their faces with masks to escape the killer virus, the cash registers of
facemask makers here are ringing louder than ever.

Exports of facemasks from India to Asian countries hit hard by SARS are
soaring. The disease has killed over 400 people worldwide, mainly in China.

Global Products, a New Delhi firm that exports surgical and other medical
equipments, says Asian sales of its facemasks have soared fivefold since the
SARS threat emerged.

"We have seen an increased demand for masks in our regular exports markets
like Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam," Vikas Narang, director
(exports) of Global Products, said.

"Though we don't have an existing export base in China, we are getting lots
of inquiries from there. Our export of masks has gone up by at least four to
five times over the previous year."

Since SARS first erupted in China in November, and the first cases were
observed in countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong in March, the disease
has spread rapidly around the world, claiming victims as far away as in

China has the highest number of cases, followed by Hong Kong and Singapore.

In all these countries, the fear of SARS has prompted people to mask their
faces so that they do not catch the virus.

Many Western countries are also stockpiling masks and other protective
equipments fearing the SARS virus may spread to their territory.

This has translated into a marketing bonanza for medical equipments makers
in India.

Companies say they are working overtime to produce World Health Organisation
guidelines' compliant surgical masks that sit closely against the face and
are made to demanding standards for filtering the air of microscopic

"The main problem we are facing now is that some of these importing
countries are placing huge orders for masks only on the condition that the
consignment would be delivered overnight," Praveen Sachdeva, of the Hospital
Equipment Manufacturing, said.

"Since we outsource these equipments from firms located in different parts
of the country, it is becoming very difficult for to us to meet these tough
deadlines," Sachdeva added.

Agrees Sudhir Narang, one of the promoters of Apothecaries Sundries
Manufacturing Company, a surgical equipments exporter.

"Our export of masks to China, Hong Kong and Singapore has increased
manifold. New orders are pouring in every day. We never anticipated this
kind of demand for masks made here."

Industry sources say medical equipments maker in New Delhi alone have
exported facemasks worth over Rs.2 billion in the last one month.

"What is helping Indian companies is the shortage of masks in all major
hospital equipment making countries around the world," said one industry

"While many countries are struggling to meet an expected surge in domestic
demand, India is relatively secured on that front and therefore can meet the
rise in global demand.

"Secondly, the Indian companies are very successfully competing with global
majors on the price front. Surgical masks made in Western countries are at
least five to ten times costlier than those made here."

First Published: May 05, 2003 00:00 IST