Unmasking the potential of fabric masks


  • Letters
  • Thursday, 09 Jul 2020

WEARING a face mask is a necessity amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Besides the disposable ones, there are many now that are made from fabric and can be washed and reused. In fact, fabric masks are becoming fashion items and many large apparel manufacturers are producing them.

But are they effective in protecting their users from infection?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released guidelines on the use of fabric masks and is encouraging countries to conduct systematic research on their usage and draw up a set of criteria to certify their effectiveness.

Fabric masks are currently tested to meet the specifications for medical use. This is utterly inappropriate as surgical masks and respirators must meet stringent requirements due to the nature of use.

The effectiveness of fabric masks should be evaluated on the basis of their bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE), particle filtration efficiency (PFE), fluid resistance, breathability and flammability tests.

About 10 million disposable masks are discarded daily in Malaysia alone, and the number is likely to increase when more students return to school, “Discard used face masks safely” (The Star, July 8).

While masks used in hospitals, clinics and labs are placed into the medical waste stream, those used by the public end up in the general waste stream which lacks facilities to safely dispose of them.

Fabric masks offers an environmentally friendly and cost-effective solution and should be included as an essential health product.

It is therefore imperative that the right standards and proper disposal measures are drawn up for these masks.

DR HARINTHARAVIMAL BALAKRISHNAN , Johor Baru

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