For them, for us ... for everyone!
Opinion article by Raul Fangueiro Coordinator at Fibrenamics — University of Minho
In a time of high uncertainty and insecurity in the face of the rampant spread of a virus that has been shown to be invisibly cruel and devastating, we are each called to adopt behaviors that minimize its effects, protecting ourselves and protecting others. Social isolation measures are undoubtedly a powerful weapon at our disposal and which, as already proven in other countries, has a very positive effect in reducing the appearance of new cases of infection, but above all, in reducing its concentration in very short periods, allowing health services to manage their response more effectively.
We are therefore called to do our part, to say: “I am here! You can count on me!". After all, we are not asked much: Stay at Home! It is the least we can do out of respect for those who, every day, guarantee that the country does not stop and cannot stay at home. Out of respect for all health professionals who are daily exposed to high risks to ensure the treatment of those in need, even when conditions are not the best. In fact, considering the different appeals made public over the past few days, there is a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in hospitals, health centers, homes, among others. Masks, gloves and gowns are just a few of the PPE in need.
These calls have, on the other hand, originated a chain of solidarity on a national scale, which has resulted in the donation of equipment owned by companies and individual citizens and, even, in the attempt to produce this equipment through the conversion of production processes initially not dedicated to their manufacture and possible use of alternative materials. In this context, it is important to clarify that the PPE used in the hospital environment normally obeys a set of standards accepted at European level and that determine the performance levels of each one, making them suitable for use, safely, by healthcare professionals. The recent report from the European Commission, through the European Safety Federation (ESF), about the handmade manufacture of PPE, namely protection masks, alerts precisely to the fact that many of the protection masks available on the market do not comply with these standards, therefore, they are not recommended for use by these professionals.
The protective masks recommended by the ESF, for use in the context of the pandemic caused by COVID-19, are of two types: medical facial masks (or surgical masks), according to Standard EN 14683 Type II or higher, and filtration masks according to EN149, with level FFP2 or FFP3. The first ones are designed only for the retention of particles emitted by the user, not having the primary function of protecting the user against external pathogens and are used to prevent the user from spreading the virus through coughing or sneezing. The second ones have the ability to filter inhaled air and, in some cases, exhaled air, being able to filter 92% of the particles, in the case of FFP2, and 98%, in the case of FFP3. These, according to the World Health Organization, should be used preferably by health care providers. In this context, the provision of protective masks for use in a hospital environment must, therefore, obey the norms established in the European Union, guaranteeing the adequate level of protection and avoiding passing false security messages, which in no way contribute to the effectiveness of the performance of doctors and nurses, in a context of crisis.
The massive need for PPE in the context of a pandemic, although exposing the weaknesses of our productive fabric, especially in the field of the production of the basic raw materials of this equipment, also drives it towards the sense of mission that is characteristic of us, seeking, with the means available, respond to such needs. There are countless examples of companies that quickly became available to produce protective equipment and that, voluntarily and disinterestedly, offer their services to respond to the growing calls. On the other hand, health professionals have also created working groups, often in partnership with companies and professionals from other areas, to try to find solutions to the problem. Business associations and technology centers have also made their contribution, as institutions that are well aware of the network of companies available and their capabilities. Universities, likewise, have provided the possible advice, considering the most recent technical-scientific evidence. There is, therefore, a collective effort to respond to this challenge.
At this moment there is an urgent need for real and consequent integration and coordination between all these agents, who should be led by those who can establish the needs and define the acceptable requirements for the use of these PPE in the most diverse contexts. They should consider all professionals, depending on the level of risk to which they are subject, including health care providers, firefighters, police, military, among many others, without forgetting all those who continue to keep the country functioning and whose activities continue to require adequate protection. Certainly, in this way, this concerted response will have a faster and more effective effect. I believe that we will all be available for that. For them, for us ... for everyone!
Source: Por eles, por nós... por todos!
Author: Raul Fangueiro