A group of University of Malta employees have quickly set-up a makeshift production line to keep up with the rising demand for hardware to disinfect and reuse Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) used by front line health care workers. Such PPE is currently in short supply the world over.
The initiative, led by engineer Dr Marc Anthony Azzopardi, harnesses Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI), which is emerging as a powerful weapon in the arsenal against the novel coronavirus, and is being deployed widely to disinfect speciality face masks – called respirators.
The initiative saw the mobilisation of the University’s considerable equipment resources and its concentration of expertise to bring together carpenters, technicians and academics to create a pragmatic portable solution that can be deployed close to where it is needed, inside hospital wards dealing with COVID-19 patients. The project is being conducted on a no-profit basis.
It takes considerable effort and planning to secure the materials needed to rapidly pull off such an emergency manufacturing activity in times of supply-chain disruption. For this reason, the design of the UVGI Disinfector was based on materials that could, for the most part, be sourced locally from reliable sources and the local industry. The team went to extreme lengths to secure the remaining materials from abroad.
UVGI is gradually being adopted all around the world with the United States CDC issuing guidance that highlights UVGI as one of the most promising techniques. The UK is the latest nation state to recommend the reuse of disposable PPE in times of shortages. Last week, in a leaked report by Public Health England (PHE), the UK government appears to be advising health care professionals to reuse the PPE in order to conserve dwindling supplies. Methods suggested for disinfection range from washing, steam and UVGI, depending on the type of PPE being re-processed.
Academics are working the nights and weekends, while the technical staff works on a roster by day, to maintain production-line productivity while observing social distancing criteria.
There have been numerous requests from hospitals, pharmacies, individual health workers, NGOs, entrepreneurs and even foreign requests for this UVGI hardware. However, the University feels the need to stress the point, that while such emergency hardware is based on sound scientific and engineering principles, it is not yet officially certified and should only be deployed as a last resort. It is therefore up to the health authorities to determine where and when it can be used.