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Low alcohol, commercial hand sanitisers found to be sub-standard

A vast majority of the products analysed during the study found that sanitiser solutions did not contain alcohol compositions for ethanol and isopropanol, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), says the writer.

A vast majority of the products analysed during the study found that sanitiser solutions did not contain alcohol compositions for ethanol and isopropanol, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), says the writer.

Published Dec 7, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - A Scientist from the University of Pretoria (UP) has found that commercial, off-the-shelf hand sanitisers used by the public in and around Tshwane, Gauteng, are substandard.

They do not contain the recommended alcohol content and are mostly incorrectly labelled according to local and international standards, the scientist said.

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A vast majority of the products analysed during the study found that sanitiser solutions did not contain alcohol compositions for ethanol and isopropanol, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Most did not have the required 70% ethanol recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while homemade alcohol-based hand sanitisers were found to conform to a greater degree to WHO standards.

The study’s findings were published in the South African Journal of Science, by Dr Abdullahi Ahmed Yusuf, senior lecturer in Entomology in UP’s Department of Zoology and Entomology in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

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Dr Abdullahi Ahmed Yusuf

“The results from the study, which involved testing a range of readily available sanitisers in the Tshwane area for compliance with international standards, are concerning, particularly as we head into the fourth wave and rely on this non-pharmaceutical intervention for limiting the spread of the virus,” Yusuf said.

“There are several substandard hand sanitisers out there; this is driven largely by profit. For example, because ethanol is an expensive solution, if you cut corners on 10%, that equates to more profit.”

Yusuf stressed that, according to anecdotal evidence, the problem is countrywide.

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Yusuf said government monitoring of sanitiser products is imperative, as some manufacturers have failed to spell out what they contain, which is a deviation from the local standard.

Of particular concern, he noted, was the inconsistency in the amount of ethanol in these sanitisers, thus affecting their efficacy.

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Yusuf said that 50 products of different origins and formulations obtained off-the-shelf and in public places in and around Tshwane were analysed for their alcohol content using gas chromatography.

A direct rapid, reproducible gas chromatography method for the determination of alcohol composition in hand sanitisers that can be used for quality control was developed and optimised as part of the study.

“Ethanol was the most common alcohol used, followed by isopropanol. Only 21 (42%) of the products analysed contained at least 70% alcohol; of these, only 14 (28%) met the WHO’s recommended 80% alcohol content to have a virucidal effect on SARS-CoV-2.”

The study found that of the 41 commercial off-the-shelf products analysed, 27 (66%) contained less than 70% alcohol in comparison to 13% of homemade products.

Only 18% of gel products contained 70% alcohol, compared with 47% for liquid-based products. Most of the products did not contain the appropriate or correct declaration as recommended by the South African National Standards (SANS 289 and 490).

The proliferation of substandard hand sanitisers calls for stricter regulation and enforcement to protect the public, their rights and their well-being during and after the Covid-19 pandemic period, Yusuf said.

“Formulation of alcohol-based hand sanitisers using WHO guidelines should be mandatory. As such, when made correctly, formulations do have the required virucidal effect against SARS- CoV-2,” he added.

Ironically, homemade alcohol-based hand sanitisers conformed to a greater degree to WHO standards. “It is evident from these results that there is a need to monitor the manufacture of off-the-shelf products to ensure compliance and to assure consumers that products offer the required protection against SARS-CoV-2,” he said.

Cape Times

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