That Sh10 facemask won’t protect you against Covid-19

Between surgical face masks selling for Sh10 and Sh20, Peter Mwania, a mechanic in Nairobi preferred the cheaper one.

The 45-year-old resident of Tena estate in Embakasi never asked why the masks had different prices. But last week on his way to Industrial Area where he works, Mwania asked for his usual Sh10 face but the vendor told him she only sells the Sh20 ones and explained the difference.

The Sh20 face mask, Mwania was told, “is good in terms of protection because it has even layers of protection from one end to another, unlike the Sh10 one, which has only at the middle. The cheaper one cannot even prevent dust to your nose.” Mwania could only thank his lucky stars as “I had not been infected yet I always daily board matatus to work, which has some passengers without masks.”

Mwania learnt that cheap is expensive in the long run and he’s just one among many Kenyans exposed to ineffective masks that have flooded the market, thanks to poor control by the relevant authorities.

A spot check by The Standard revealed that some face masks do not even have filtration layers.

Last July, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) flagged three companies for selling substandard surgical masks and warned Kenyans against some brands.

Kebs asked three manufacturers to “recall all the substandard masks from the market and institute corrective actions whose effectiveness shall be confirmed by Kebs before the suspension of the standardisation mark permits is lifted,” said Bernard Njiraini, the Kebs MD.

Last December, Kebs approved an additional standard to enhance quality and safety of face masks produced locally. Face masks should thus have “breathability, filtration efficiency, hydrophilicity (bond with water molecules) and hydrophobic (repel water molecule) characteristics,” besides “ material bioburden (number of bacteria on a surface), design, and user information,”  added Njiraini.

However, unscrupulous operators are still producing face mask without observing the above standards, yet Kenyans prefer surgical face masks to ones made of cloth. Many are going for the cheap masks, which might hardly protect them from droplets of Covid-19 due to poor filtration efficiency.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says good protective face masks have several layers of fabric and are made to fit.

Kebs Director of Quality Assurance and Inspection Bernard Nguyo agrees there are fake face masks which the agency was fighting “due to non-compliance by manufactures. We recently suspended some brands and we have not gone back to the market to see if they returned to sell them”.

He blamed many Kenyans for not caring to know which face mask to buy, yet all one needs to do is send a text message (for Sh5) by starting with SM# then permit number on packet to 20023 and a message will be sent with details of whether the mask is standard. “If you find it’s not standard, you can call our toll free number 1545 and we will take the necessary action,” said Nguyo.

Besides buying substandard face masks, most Kenyans also wear them poorly, wash and wear them, which CDC says is wrong considering “medical procedure masks are single-use masks that are not made of cloth and are not designed to be washed or laundered. They are sold online and through large retail stores. These are not the same as other medical masks”.

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