NJIRAINI: Adherence to standards key to combating COVID-19
A week ago, Susan Kageha and her daughter were caught on camera wearing improvised masks made from plastic bottles as they crossed the Indian Ocean, at the Likoni channel.
Her sense of personal responsibility to combat the spread of coronavirus that has killed over a million people worldwide did not go unnoticed.
A day later, she was the recipient of proper protective masks and some Ksh. 100,000 from the county leadership. Ms. Kageha took precaution rather than resigning to fate and despondency.
Her story signifies the increasing realization by Kenyans that they bear responsibility in reducing the transmission of the devastating COVID-19.
As the government and relevant agencies propagate containment measures so are the citizens required to play their part in the fight against the pandemic.
Personal Protective Equipment or PPEs are key to curbing widespread transmission of the virus through droplets when one sneezes or coughs.
PPEs such as masks act as barriers to minimizing the direct transmission of infectious agents that could be from external environment and by the wearer.
However, an effective mask must factor in the filtration capacity, efficiency of the material, capacity to absorb moisture and the fit of the mask on the wearer’s face. It behooves all to ascertain the quality and use of the mask one is purchasing.
The Kenya Bureau of Standards working with the Ministry of Health and the State Department of Industrialization, has tested samples of the PPEs to ensure they meet the quality thresholds and are safer for human use.
With verified and certified equipment – it will help stem the spread of the virus. We are sensitizing Kenyans on the certified sanitizers, masks as well as cautioning against unscrupulous traders’ keen to capitalize on the pandemic.
We have ramped up our market surveillance activities to ensure that PPEs sold in the market meet the required standards.
As part of a multi-agency team, KEBS has begun crackdown on rogue traders of uncertified sanitizers, masks.
Stern action stipulated in the Standards Act Cap 496 will be taken against the culprits. It provides for a fine or imprisonment for anyone who fails to provide samples for tests and inspection.
KEBS has a multi-faceted mandate – as the custodian of standardization services, conformity assessments as well as a facilitator of fair and just trade. We have allowed free access to Standards that will guide manufacturers in the production of PPEs.
We are holding consultative meetings with local manufacturers including Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions, factories, universities and other entrepreneurs.
We guide them on the requirements including the materials, composition, type, workmanship, design, size, test methods, labeling, and packaging of surgical masks and other PPEs.
Currently there are two Kenya Standards relating to medical face masks including KS 2636:2016 that specifies materials, composition, type, workmanship, design, size, test methods, labeling, and packaging of surgical masks and KS 2409-6:2018 on filtering face masks to protect against particles.
The surgical masks offer one-way protection – capturing droplets from the wearer while the N95 offers two-way protection by filtering air entering of exiting the wearer.
It is important to note that reusable cloth coverings made of woven fabrics may offer limited protection against droplets. There is no data indicating their effectiveness in filtering bacteria and virus during sneezing or coughing.
The face masks and social distancing are critical containment actions as well as personal hygiene including regular hand washing with soap for at least 20 seconds and use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers to prevent the exposure and spread of the virus.
Certified hand sanitizers should have at least 60% alcohol content and a legitimate KEBS Standardization mark.
Unfortunately, unscrupulous manufacturers and traders have taken advantage of the situation to offer sale of substandard products which give unsuspecting buyers a false sense of protection while increasing the risk of exposure.
This not only compromises the efforts to contain the virus not to mention other harmful effects that may arise from using substandard products.
Countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have been cited as having successfully contained the spread of the virus.
A key learning from these countries is that there is collaboration and cooperation between the government, the people and the manufacturers.
The people are maintaining strict social distance, wearing masks and maintaining hygiene as the governments aggressively test and isolate patients while manufacturers are facilitated to produce PPEs that meet applicable standards.
Manufacturers are encouraged to consult KEBS for guidance on quality and certification of PPEs and make use of the free standards offered online through the KEBS website.
The public and traders must check the validity of the Standardization Mark permit on products being sold or purchased by sending the code (numbers) underneath the Standardization Mark logo to 20023 (i.e. type message SM#Code and SMS to 20023) to get product manufacturing details and permit validity status or ISM#code for imported products.
If the details are different, retailers should not purchase, stock or offer for sale the products but report to KEBS Toll Free Number 1545 during official working hours 8.00 AM to 1.00 PM and 2.00 PM to 5.00 PM, Monday to Friday.
We must all recognize that, the fight against coronavirus is our fight – the government, the manufacturers and the people. We must work together.
Lt. Col. (Rtd) Bernard Njiraini is the Managing Director, Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS)