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Opinions of Sunday, 26 April 2020

Columnist: Prof. Kwesi Amponsah-Tawiah, UGBS

Of fashion and protection: The use of face masks in the corona circus


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Personal protective equipment a nomenclature largely used in industries has now become a household name as the world joins hands to fight the global pandemic-COVID-19.

Although the magnitude of the problem requires global effort, it is needless to say that personal and individual efforts are most required in the protection against the virus.

The praise of PPE particularly face mask has been sang in various circles giving it some premium and raising its value in recent times. However, the same cannot be said of the circus characterizing its use with dire consequence for the fight against the pandemic.

Is it not surprising that in Ghana, the spread of the virus is largely among people who can afford and are using the PPE? Perhaps, it is time to examine the appropriateness of the mask and its appropriate use among Ghanaians

Mask alone can give a false feeling of protection and can be a source of infection if not used correctly (WHO 2020). According to Myles Munroe “where the purpose of a thing is not known abuse is inevitable”. The abuse/misuse or inappropriate use of the face mask during this period could jeopardise efforts aimed at controlling the spread of the pandemic as the masks could serve as receptors and conduits for the spread of the virus. .

Personal protective equipment (PPE) are significant part of the resources put at the disposal of individuals (mostly employees) to protect and prevent injuries, diseases and illnesses emanating from a working or living environment. Ideally, the best approach is to maintain a safe working/living environment and eliminate any potential hazards.

PPE should only be relied upon as a last line of defense in environments and under circumstances where it is practically impossible to control the hazards at source. The current pandemic reflects such conditions for the use of PPE particularly the face mask as scientists continue to stage a war for a source solution to the virus.

The use of PPE generally implies working or living in a potentially hazardous environment. The global environment has become potentially hazardous putting all at risk and requiring the use of PPE by all. However, the use of PPE is meaningless unless it is intricately linked to the following:

Appropriate choice of equipment Proper use of equipment Proper maintenance/storage of equipment Adequate training for the user Therefore, it is of prime importance to ensure that the equipment chosen is both reliable and effective, it is being properly used and maintained, and the user has undergone adequate training. The aim of this article is to raise awareness on the proper use of face masks during this period of COVID-19.

The innovations that have characterized the production of face masks in the wake of COVID-19 deserve commendation albeit with some caution. Are the producers of these masks following standards in the production of the PPE or merelt putting together pieces of materials with strings attached?

Are the producers using appropriate materials and methods in producing the PPE? Are the activities of the producers regulated? Who certifies, the PPE before they are sent out for use?

Or it is a case of emergency situations require emergency response? It is important to ensure some minimum standards if the PPE is to serve its purpose of injury and disease prevention and not another addition to fashion.

Mask alone can give a false sense of protection and can be a source of infection if not used correctly(WHO, 2020). Indeed, the inappropriateness of the materials used in the production of the masks is largely affecting its proper usage as many patrons find it discomforting and have to let it off occasionally to catch some breath and also to engage in “proper” conversation.

At the market places, most of the masks worn are torn, with others discolored and soggy with holes in them. The masks are seen as transferrable materials with individuals passing them over to close relations after use. The cost of the masks makes it difficult for many to dispose of it after use, and yet are not properly stored for re-use.

Masks cannot protect against the new corona virus when used alone. When worn, they should be combined with hand hygiene and other preventive measure (WHO, 2020).

Hand care protocols are not observed before and after the use of the masks. The masks are used by all without recourse to underlying medical conditions which may be compounded by its use. The mask may appear a very simple protective equipment for use.

However, the lack of training on its appropriate use and guidelines on its use amd maintenance may defeat its purpose only to render it another costume for the circus.

The World Health Organisations (WHO) together with other well-meaning agencies have provided some guidelines for the appropriate use of appropriate masks in this period of COVID-19.

Key Points on the Proper Use of PPE

Proper selection

First, understand the nature and degree of the potential hazards, and then select appropriate PPE that meets the relevant standards. Furthermore, the PPE (in this case mask) must properly fit the physique of the user before they can be effective. PPE must meet the demands of the environment and should be as comfortable and easy to use as possible.

Correct use

Understand and abide by the correct usage methods of the PPE.

Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. Examine the mask for tears or holes

Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.

Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks. To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. (WHO, 2020)

Correct maintenance /storage

The PPE should be properly maintained and stored if re-usable. This could be done as follows:

Inspect the mask to be sure it can be reused. Has it been compromised? Is it wet? Visibly soiled? If it is, keep in a sealed bag and dispose it off safely, then perform hand hygiene. If the mask is OK to reuse, prepare it for storage. (Next step.). Fold the mask in half (lengthwise or widthwise), so the outside surfaces are touching each other. Place it carefully into your clean storage area/bag. Seal the bag, if you’re using a paper one; if using a plastic baggie, leave it open.

Conclusion

The fashion craze that has characterized the production and use of face masks though welcome as it encourages the use of face masks as a preventive measure to the spread of the virus.

However, the inappropriate use of the masks only presents false hopes likely to render the innovations futile as it may rather compound the problem than than help prevent the spread.

Thus, it is recommended that though in crisis period, there is the need for the appropriate state agencies particularly, the Ghana Standards Authority to ensure some minimum standards in the production of the face masks.

Also, the government through the relevant agencies should step up education on the appropriate use of appropriate PPEs during this period of COVID-19. The corona circus must that has characterized the use of the face mask muxt give way to the appropriate use of same.

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