What you need to know:
- Mr Daniel Birungi, the UMA executive director, told Daily Monitor in an interview on Monday that the substandard masks distributed by government could have been produced by dishonest manufacturers, who are not UMA members but were licenced by UNBS.
The Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA) has blamed the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) for not doing enough to check the substandard facemasks on the market, which have been distributed by government in the Covid-19 prevention drive.
However, UNBS says it is still carrying out surveillance audits and if any certified manufacturer is found to have been involved in the production of substandard masks, their licence will be revoked and put out of business.
On May 18, President Museveni directed that all Ugandans aged six and above should be given a reusable facemask to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and promised that government would give out the masks.
Mr Daniel Birungi, the UMA executive director, told Daily Monitor in an interview on Monday that the substandard masks distributed by government could have been produced by dishonest manufacturers, who are not UMA members but were licenced by UNBS.
“Our position has been clear; we are at the front and centre of emphasising importance of standardisation as a means of facilitating a level playing field in the market. The challenge always comes with those who opt for shortcuts. They don’t belong anywhere, so there is no one who can follow up on them,” Mr Birungi said.
“This was not the first supply our members made to the government but they have supplied many other things to government such as medical uniforms and uniforms for police and army. So they have a reputation to protect and can’t be caught doing things that are below standard. People should be made to belong somewhere they can be traced,” he added.
The UMA boss asked UNBS to step up its surveillance and restore adherence to quality requirements among manufacturers.
“UNBS has the mandate to enforce standards and as such should be out there picking some of these samples and arising complaints,” he said.
Mr Birungi challenged UNBS to enforce standards compliance and punish the culpable companies.
“We are campaigning for a robust UNBS because it is only them who can solve the problem of quality adherence and give a level ground for new companies to thrive,” he said.
Mr John Sanyu, the UNBS senior materials technician, said the major quality requirements that many certified manufacturers fail include microbial cleanliness, where some masks are produced when already contaminated with germs.
He said some manufacturers are inserting “serviettes, mosquito nets” as filter materials in the masks and other defective materials.
Ms Patricia Bageine Ejalu, the UNBS deputy executive director in-charge of standards, said the hunt for makers of sub-standard masks is ongoing.
“If the surveillance audits are done and a certified manufacturer is found producing substandard products, the UNBS licence is revoked and they are automatically out of business,” Ms Ejalu said. He did not say when this will be done or whether any culprits have been identified.
She said the UNBS team is making impromptu visits to certified manufacturers’ premises to check if they are meeting the standards. Ms Ejalu said UNBS also buys samples of certified products on the market and takes them for quality tests.
Asked whether UNBS is considering to recall the substandard masks, Ms Sylvia Kirabo, the UNBS principal public relations officer, said the decision will depend on the report of the surveillance team.
Health ministry’s take
The Health minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, said although 16,092,780 masks have been distributed by government in 44 districts, the ministry has been informed about substandard masks and the issue is being addressed.
“The Ministry of Health apologises for the prolonged delay in distribution of the fabric facemasks, which is beyond our control. The ministry has been informed about the poor quality of some of the facemasks supplied by certain companies,” she said in a statement on Monday.
“The companies have been tasked to improve the quality according to set standards provided by government. In the event that the company does not adhere to the standards, they will be dropped out from the list of suppliers,” she added.
Standard specifications of facemasks
A standard non-medical facemask should protect the full face or parts of the face against contaminated atmosphere or reduce the emission of droplets from the wearer to the atmosphere.
According to information on the UNBS website, the facemasks may be of a single layer or a multi-layer composite made of single or blended fabric, with or without film and shall have head harness for holding it on the user’s head.
* The design: They shall be designed so that air enters the facemask and passes directly to the nose and mouth area of the face mask while the exhaled air shall flow directly to the ambient atmosphere or via the exhalation valve(s) or by other appropriate means if applicable.
* The fitting: The facemask shall have a mechanism to fix to the wearer such as head harness to tie it securely to the head or ears to minimise any gaps between the face and the mask. * Instruction for use of reusable mask: If the facemask is designed to be reusable, the manufacturer shall indicate so and declare a method for cleaning, disinfecting and drying products.
* The type of material: The materials used in the facemasks, including filters and the straps (elastic bands), shall be compatible with the normal household laundry and disposal methods.
* Durability: The mask shall tolerate at least five full machine washing cycles without loss of barrier properties or degradation of the elastic bands. The full wash cycle (wetting, washing, rinsing) shall be at least 30 min (laundry or other) with a wash temperature of 60 °C.
* Type of material: Facemasks may be made from variety of common cloth and other fabric materials which are compatible and suitable for use like chiffon and cotton, in specific quantities.
* No irritation: Materials that may come into contact with the wearer’s skin shall not be known to have potential to cause irritation or any health hazard or deleterious effect to the user.
* No deformation: After storing the masks at specified temperature and then returning to room temperature, the facemask shall not show appreciable deformation.
* Breathability: the mask should ease breathing and shall be designed in a way that does not cause suffocation to the user.
* Labelling, each package shall be legibly and indelibly marked with the name and physical address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor, among others.