We must adhere to product standards while fighting pandemic

Two weeks 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 infected over two million people worldwide did not go unnoticed. A day later, she received proper protective masks and Sh100,000 from the Mombasa county leadership.

Kageha took precaution rather than resigning to fate and despondency. Her story signifies the increasing realisation 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 (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 minimising the direct transmission of infectious agents that could be from external environment as well as 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 Industrialisation, has tested samples of the PPEs to ensure they meet the quality thresholds and are safe for human use. Verified and certified equipment will help stem the spread of the virus.

We are sensitising Kenyans on the certified sanitisers, masks as well as cautioning against unscrupulous traders keen to capitalise 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 a crackdown on rogue traders of uncertified sanitisers and masks. Stern action stipulated in the Standards Act Cap 496 will be taken against the culprits.

The law provides for a fine or imprisonment for anyone who fails to provide samples for tests and inspection.

Guide manufacturers

Kebs has a multi-faceted mandate – as the custodian of standardisation 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 training institutions, factories, universities and other entrepreneurs.

We guide them on the requirements including the materials, composition, design, test methods and packaging of surgical masks and other PPEs.

Currently there are two Kenya Standards relating to medical face masks; the KS 2636:2016 and KS 2409-6:2018.

The surgical masks offer one-way protection – capturing droplets from the wearer while the N95 offers two-way protection by filtering air entering or exiting the wearer.

Manufacturers are encouraged to consult KEBS for guidance on quality and certification of PPEs.

The writer is Managing Director, Kenya Bureau of Standards


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