COVID-19: Mask Production Under Lockdown in Nepal

By Alex Berryman

Even under lockdown, Kathmandu is beautiful

As COVID-19 cases rose across the globe, many in Nepal watched and wondered, "Are we next? And if so, what will we do?"


If a large outbreak were to hit Nepal, the healthcare system would struggle. As a precautionary measure, the Nepali government announced a police-enforced lockdown, closing all non-essential businesses and international travel on March 23rd. At the time of writing this, the lockdown has been extended til May 7th, 2020.


With international travel suspended, many worried we would not receive shipments of medicine, PPE and much-needed supplies. Purnaa leadership began receiving calls from healthcare professionals asking if we could help by manufacturing safety gear locally. So we decided to put our design and sewing skills to work to serve our community in Nepal - on March 24th we began developing facemasks.


Healthcare workers in a rural health post

Fast-Tracking Mask Development


Before jumping into this project, Purnaa's leaders reached out to healthcare workers across Nepal to assess what was needed and how Purnaa could be useful. Within hours, we heard stories from hospitals, health posts, and NGOs in the field about shortages of masks. So we decided to focus on developing facemasks first.


At first, we did not know what made a good mask. Research was needed! So we met with multiple doctors and hospital acquisition specialists and poured over research online. With the closed borders, we were not able to access medical grade materials, so we knew we had to work with the materials available locally.


Who knew t-shirt fabric could be so powerful?

During our research (see below), we read a peer-reviewed study from Cambridge showing that 100% cotton t-shirt fabric provides the best fit, filtration, and breathability. It also showed us that a middle layer of thick weave cotton (like a tea towel), would increase filtration effectiveness.

Using these materials and techniques, the research showed we could achieve an 83% effectiveness on filtering 1-micron particles and a 71% filtration of 0.02-micron particles, which for a t-shirt and tea towel is pretty impressive!


As a t-shirt manufacturer, we have a lot of t-shirt fabric and thick cotton fabric, so we were able to get to work quickly to meet immediate demand.


Our team did research and development, design and sampled multiple arriving on a final sample within one week of starting the project. This process under normal conditions takes a month or more. Suffice to say, we are pretty proud of our team.

Purnaa staff working on face masks

Production

Now with a need identified, research done and a design made for a mask, Purnaa leadership and production team assessed how we could deliver these supplies while protecting the safety of staff. Mask-making was deemed an essential business by the Nepali government, so Purnaa re-opened our doors with a skeletal crew and implemented temperature checks at the door and strict rules of handwashing.


Hospitals, NGOs and companies are purchasing and distributing among their staff and communities. We are grateful to play a small part, as a cut and sew manufacturer, in Nepal's COVID-19 response.

Proud to support our Nepali partners


At Purnaa, we heard the need for masks and saw it as an opportunity to serve our community and to provide meaningful employment to Purnaa staff. As we look at the 'post-COVID-19' world, we are beginning to make Purnaa masks available at wholesale rates to those that need them internationally as well as locally. Get Yours Here.


- To share about Purnaa's masks, here is a flyer. You may download it or share the link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1AZYS8kCXh4whgoJsHFO4tqeYanqbcx8O/view?usp=sharing


Read More:

On mask-making - Feature with Local Project Nepal

On our impact - Purnaa's Commitment to Staff During COVID-19

On what you can be doing for your business in lockdown - Preparing Your Business for Life after COVID-19