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EPZ firms carve out a niche in producing quality face masks

By Dominic Omondi | May 12th 2020

Face masks come in all shapes and sizes. Some are branded and stylish while others are just plain.

Some are going for prohibitively high prices because, well, consumerism has never been curtailed by health crises.

But that doesn’t really matter. The best face mask is not one of Nike or Gucci, but one that is impregnable against the deadly coronavirus that has kept millions off their workplaces.

Perhaps the Holy Grail to the so-called flattening of the curve so that the health system is not overwhelmed, might just depend on how fast people embrace the culture of wearing face masks. The face mask might be to Covid-19 what condoms were to HIV/Aids.

But, which face masks will truly help flatten the curve? Experts reckon that affordable and quality face masks hold the key to re-opening the economy.

As such, President Uhuru Kenyatta has crafted his economic stimulus programme around the manufacture of affordable and quality face masks and personal protective equipment.

For seventeen Export Processing Zones companies, the outbreak at first was calamitous. But now, they see a silver lining in this pandemic that has left millions jobless and threatens to wipe out lives.

With the export market for textiles and apparels closed due to restriction of movements in North America and Europe, EPZ companies have turned inwards producing face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) for the local market.

Together, these companies have been churning out 639,700 face masks and 86,000 PPEs every day.

Revital Healthcare EPZ Ltd, has been the star performer, producing 180,000 surgical, three-layer face masks with better exposed filters (BEF) on a daily basis.

Hela Intimates EPZ Limited and New Wide Garments Kenya EPZ Limited have each been producing 100,000 face masks everyday.

“But it has not been any kind of face masks that EPZ companies have been producing,” says Paul Gicheru, Chairman of Export Processing Zone Authority (EPZA).

Gicheru, insists that ensuring face masks are of quality standards does not only level the playing field for EPZ companies which are expected to adhere to strict certifications, it is also essential for the public keen to return to their livelihoods without the risk of contracting the disease.

“People should not be allowed to make sub-standard masks, they might just create a bigger crisis,” noted Gicheru.

Kenya Bureau of Standards has already gazetted standards that an ideal re-usable face mask should meet. Such a face mask should run from the middle of the nose to the bottom of a wearer’s chin.

“A re-usable face mask should not be placed on young children under two years or anyone who has trouble breathing, or unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the masks without assistance,” reads part of the document.

Re-usable face masks should also have two layers. 

The inner layer that is in direct contact with the wearer must be 100 per cent cotton while the outer part can be made entirely using polyester.

A number of companies have since been given permission to use the new standardisation mark.

It is not just EPZ companies that have positioned themselves as strong players in the face mask-economy, the government has opened up the area to entry by small players in slums and villages.

President Kenyatta initiated the National Hygiene Programme on April 29, in what is aimed at creating jobs while maintaining the health of the population.

The programme will see 26,148 workers employed and are expected to increase to over a 100,000 of the youth. “The inaugural cluster of employment will involve residents in 23 informal settlements, spread across 7 counties,” said President Kenyatta.  

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