By Isabella Agyakwa
The idea of using a face mask is to complement the personal preventive etiquette in place to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country.
Indeed, since the outbreak of the pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has encouraged the wearing of masks as one of the ways to prevent the spread of the virus, given that the disease is spread by droplets and contact with contaminated surfaces.
So, the mask can serve as a protection in situations such as when one is in close quarters with others where someone infected might sneeze or cough in your face.
It is therefore imperative for people to wear the mask even though it is uncomfortable wearing it. But since our survival depends on them, the harder we are on ourselves in using it the better.
This is especially when the Minister of Health has revealed that the disease may stay with us indefinitely, hence the need to “make up our minds that our way of life is going to change for a very long time.”
After the government lifted the three-week temporary ban, the Greater Accra Regional Minister and his colleagues issued press releases to enforce the compulsory wearing of the mask, that persons without nose masks are prevented from entering the Central Business District of Accra.
Beyond that, relying on section 169 of the Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851), the Minister responsible for Health, by Executive Instrument (E. I.65), declared COVID-19 a public health emergency and, under Section 170(1) of the Act, ordered a mandatory wearing of face and nose masks in public places as one of the preventive measures against the disease.
Even though this falls under the mitigating measure against the further spread of COVID-19, what comes to mind is the quality of the face masks which has been localised with the informal economy actors very active in production.
What type of standard are meant for producing it? Is it cotton or polyester, as it appears all sort of fabrics are being used?
Standard and specifications
The Food and Drug Authority (FDA) says the face masks must be able to filter out particles and still be easy to breathe through.
To this end, “it is recommended that fabric used for face mask should be free from all chemicals. In any event that printed fabric is used, the layer of the fabric in direct contact with the face should be plain fabric that is free from chemicals.”
With regards to specifications, “Length: Cheek-to-cheek: 10 inches, Width: 6 inches, Thickness: Three layers not less than 0.759mm, Porosity: ≥10000 Pascal.”
Among other things, “in the absence of propylene, which is the common material used for medical grade face masks, 100% cotton or cotton blends possess good material characteristics for homemade face masks.”
“Recent studies/evaluations undertaken by the FDA on viable materials for the production of effective homemade face masks from local fabrics/materials established the following: Calico-Stiff (Hard/Medium)-Calico (three layers) combination is ideal for reusable homemade COVID-19 face mask. 2. Calico-Calico-Calico (three layers) combination is ideal for reusable homemade COVID-19 face mask,” it added.
The aforementioned clearly indicates that not every kind of fabric can be used in producing the mask. Unfortunately, apart from the quality of mask which is on sale in the market, there are concerns that the traders allow some of the buyers to try on the mask before they purchase it.
It comes as no surprise when the Director of Health Promotion at the Ghana Health Service, Dr Dacosta Aboagye, warned that it is dangerous to try face masks on when buying them. I hope my fellow Ghanaians get the message.
The Metro Public Health Department is responsible for providing strategic and administrative leadership for the management of policies and programmes relating to environmental sanitation.
This department also liaises with other agencies in addressing complex environmental sanitation problems requiring inter-sectorial collaboration as well as leads the quality assurance process for environmental sanitation.
In other words, I can say that this department, which is under the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), also has the mandate to ensure that not just anything is allowed on the streets or in the market as they have the capacity to ensure quality control in the markets, and I believe their presence is equally represented in the markets.
Having listened to the reports and words of caution from relevant stakeholders on the use of the mask, one will wonder what measures the department has undertaken to ensure the average purchase quality and not substandard masks because it is less expensive.
In Turkey, for instance, reports say Police seized one million masks and arrested five people in a raid on a sweatshop making unauthorised medical supplies in Istanbul. Workers in Turkish textile factories were seen stitching together medical masks in conditions that experts described as unsterile and substandard.
In the case of Ghana, I dare not say security personnel should go about arresting people for stitching the masks, but at least what the various public health departments across the country can do is to ensure that their members are on the grounds educating persons producing the masks on the guidelines laid down by the FDA.
Beyond that, it behooves everyone to be their brother’s keeper by educating and propagating the guidelines as we are all together in the fight against COVID-19. Myself, I have tried interacting with tailors and seamstresses on how the mask should be sown and the right kind of fabric to be used. In one instance, the response I had was: “I do it exactly like the authorities have encouraged and I’m selling it for GHC5. My customers are very happy with my work.”
From this, I got to know that pricing is also a major factor for producing quality. But should we say for about GHC5, we should not contain the disease? NO! Even though I understand that some people find it difficult to make ends meet in this time, our health should not be jeopardised in situations such as these.
“Everyone should become an ambassador of stopping the virus by entreating others to adhere to the guidelines aimed at eliminating the pandemic,” the Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, has said.
How to wear the mask
To offer effective protection against COVID-19, masks must be used in combination with frequent hand washing with soap under running water, use of alcohol-based hand sanitiser and physical distancing. They must be put on properly and changed frequently.
The Ghana Health Service warns: “Do not try on masks when buying; do not take off masks when talking; when drinking or eating, remove the mask appropriately and wear it afterwards correctly; and carry extra clean masks for possible changes in the day.”
It further cautions that for cloth mask, “it should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use, remove mask and put in a bowl of warm soapy water, wash it well until clean, rinsed under running water and dry the mask in open sun, iron mask and seal it in plastic bag ready for use and in case of any damage or change in shape, it is time to change it.”
Procedures for wearing a mask generally:
- First wash hands with soap under running water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer;
- Place the mask over the bridge of your nose;
- Fit tightly but comfortably against the side of the face;
- Then place the elastic bands behind your ears or tie the ropes around your head;
- Stretch the mask downwards to cover your chin;
- Allow for breathing without restriction;
- Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wash your hands with soap under running water; and
- Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is wet and wash after each use.