Help get the poorest, most vulnerable masked up to prevent Covid-19 resurgence
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Cape Town – Data has shown that the poorest areas in South Africa have been hit the hardest by Covid-19 infections – affecting twice as many than those in wealthier suburbs.
What has added to their plight is the fact that many vulnerable citizens still don’t have access to quality cloth masks.
While the country has passed the first wave of Covid-19, experts warn that infections could surge again as life starts to normalise under more relaxed public health measures.
Dr Jantjie Taljaard, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stellenbosch University says: ’’Hand sanitising regularly, wearing masks and avoiding the 3 ‘Cs’: crowds in closed spaces and close contact will contribute significantly to preventing new infections.“
According to Western Cape Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo, studies show that a three-layer mask made from polycotton offers the most protection aside from medical masks.
“In order to ensure communities across the country are properly safeguarded, the Western Cape Government’s Health Department has partnered with The Health Foundation, the Infection Control Africa Network and local clothing manufacturer Coconut Jazz to create UbuntuCare – an initiative that provides both employment and free quality cloth masks to those in at-risk communities.”
The highest Covid-19 case counts are concentrated in densely populated settlements, says Taljaard. An important component of the data story is to understand how Covid-19 is affecting certain communities and to respond by implementing more effective prevention strategies, he adds.
“The living conditions in informal settlements make it very challenging to contain the virus due to difficult socio-economic circumstances, such as overcrowding and sharing of communal taps and toilets.
’’Many vulnerable community members still don’t have access to quality cloth masks, some wear scarfs, while others don’t wear any form of facial protection, which significantly heightens the spread of Covid-19… This is a concern that can be addressed with relative ease – a low-hanging fruit in our quest to limit viral transmission,” says Taljaard.
Whilst access to masks has increased, access to quality cloth masks as per the World Health Organisation and national government specifications, remains a significant challenge.
Regarding the efficacy of the UbuntuCare masks, Mbombo says: “The masks manufactured by UbuntuCare conform to national and international specifications.
’’It consists of three layers – the outer layers being polycotton (polyester for droplet resistance and cotton for breathability). The middle layer of the mask is a 50gsm non-woven polypropylene, which acts as a filter and prevents approximately 70% of droplets from entering the covering as tested by Stanford University in the US. This is considered more than adequate to stop transmission from one person to another.”
The Health Foundation is appealing to the public to get all South Africans masked up.
“Help us get as many masks to those in impoverished communities who cannot afford to buy quality masks,” urges Liba Magwali, chief operations officer for The Health Foundation.
Actuaries say the probable infection rate for the entire population is around 22%, which is about 13.1 million people, which translates to one in three adults.
They predict that the real number of local deaths is in the region of 40 000 and expect a further 11 000 people to die before the end of the year.
“Covid-19 is most likely going to be with us for some time,” warns Taljaard. “Therefore, we cannot become complacent when it comes to social distancing, hand sanitising and the wearing of masks. For now, these measures are our best defence.
“If we could get at least two, three-layer masks to every person that still does not have a good quality mask, we could significantly help reduce the spread of the virus and limit the implications for especially the poor who are most at risk.”
Fiona Hoadley, co-owner of Coconut Jazz and UbuntuCare partner, says the mask-making initiative has allowed 150 seamstresses to earn a living and put food on the table for their families during the pandemic – most of whom live in the same impoverished communities that are desperately in need of proper masks.
Based on the latest figures from Statistics South Africa, the current unemployment level is at an all-time high of 30%, which is predicted to jump to a crushing 50% due to large parts of the economy being shut for months during the lockdown.
The UbuntuCare initiative aims to employ more than 400 seamstresses and craftspeople by mid-2021.
With the purchase of every two-pack UbuntuCare masks, one will be donated to a community in need. All funds raised, whether through masks sales or financial donations, are channelled back into the project to ensure that all monies are used for the procurement of masks.
UbuntuCare masks can be ordered online from www.ubuntucare.org and cost R70 for two in a pack. Delivery is free to anywhere in the country.