St. Damien Sews Face Masks To Save Money and Lives
To curb the growing costs of PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital staff sew face masks to protect both frontline healthcare workers and patients.
May 1, 2020 - Haiti
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, personal protective equipment (PPE) was something one might have assumed all hospitals and healthcare centers have in abundance; however, due to the severity of the novel coronavirus and the ease of contagion, increased demand and skyrocketing costs for PPE around the world have left many healthcare institutions struggling to obtain sufficient gear for doctors, nurses, and administrative staff working in direct contact with suspected COVID-19 cases.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, is no exception. As of 1 May, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, there are 81 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Haiti. Due to the weak public health system and widespread lack of testing, this number is debated. There are credible fears among experts that COVID-19 could escalate beyond the healthcare system’s ability to handle the situation.
To help protect staff and patients, St. Damien Pediatric Hospital quickly stocked up on face masks, which have become critical equipment in the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, especially in healthcare environments. Medical staff of St. Damien, the only hospital in Haiti specializing in treating children with respiratory illnesses, have been encouraging the public to use face masks and practice social distancing. In addition, the hospital has been making its own hand sanitizer.
Suffice to say, the immediate massive increase in the use of face masks at the hospital has been a challenge. According to St. Damien’s head of pharmacy Romel Cajuste, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic the hospital used 5,025 surgical masks per month and 450 specialized N-95 masks per week. Current usage has increased to an average of 7,500 surgical masks per month and 500 N-95 masks per week.
“Furthermore, the cost of face masks has increased dramatically due to the increase in demand. In December 2019, surgical masks cost around US$0.08 per unit. They are now US$0.40 each. Similarly, the N-95 mask, which cost US$1.84 in December, is now US$2.40. These sudden increases are difficult for healthcare institutions like us to manage. Besides, often the quantity ordered is not what is shipped. For example, for a recent order of 5,000 masks, only 998 were delivered,” explains Romel.
Owing to effective inventory management and anticipation of a run on the market long before COVID-19 became a pandemic, St. Damien was able to avoid a face mask shortage.
At the beginning of March, however, management realized the hospital could not bear the cost of buying single-use disposable face masks for the long-term. This type of face mask must be discarded to prevent cross-contamination. In a stroke of creative ingenuity, Dr. Margareth Narcisse recommended that St. Damien began making its own masks in order to save money and ensure the hospital has a steady supply going forward.
Since then, nurses and staff at St. Damien have been sewing masks for the hospital using 100% polyester fabric, elastics bands, and clips ordered in kits from a supplier in Port-au-Prince. “We have made 4,900 masks, which is extraordinary,” says Dr. Narcisse.
The total supply cost to make the first batch of face masks came to US$246.23, or about US$0.05 per unit–seven times less than the unit cost for a disposable mask.
Dr. Narcisse notes that employees from the different departments help sew masks. She adds, “Parents need a good education. We have to motivate them and raise awareness about wearing masks. To come into the hospital, wearing a mask is compulsory.
“Our staff is convinced and help us to evangelize both handwashing and the use of the masks.”
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Damarie Egide Voight
Communications Officer, St. Damien Pediatric Hospital