“The fashion community stepped up to help with the situation. These include the textile and garment workers, designers, artisans, and ordinary citizens who can sew PPEs.”
The Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has already infected nearly six million people worldwide, claiming the lives of 360,000 people. Moreover, this pandemic has posed several challenges, notably the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) used by our healthcare workers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has asked different countries to manufacture more PPEs. In the Philippines, healthcare workers are at a high risk. Each healthcare worker uses at least 10 to 15 PPEs for one patient in a week in private hospitals.
In the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), the chosen center for COVID-19 patients, an average of three PPEs for one patient is used in a week.
Groups and individuals have set an initiative to raise funds for more PPEs but manufacturers cannot cope up with the high demand. The fashion community stepped up to help with the situation. These include the textile and garment workers, designers, artisans, and ordinary citizens who can sew PPEs.
Bataan General Hospital and Medical Center healthcare workers trying out the donated sewn PPE suits made for them, Photo courtesy of Dr. Maria Almira Kiat
Three students from the Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship – Fashion and Design (ICE- FAD) have made PPEs based on the feedback they get from healthcare workers they donated to.
As of writing, Leilina Kate Yalung has made 300 washable face masks, Abbey Balagbagan has produced 20,000 face masks and 10,000 two piece PPE suits by April 21. Erjohn dela Serna has made 982 pieces where he targets to create around 1,500.
They have donated them to different barangays, Pasig City General Hospital, Child’s Hope Children’s Hospital, Cainta, Tarlac, Angeles, Pangasinan, Bacolod, Bulacan, and Navotas.
Volunteer workers sewing PPE suits, Photo courtesy of Abbey Balagbagan
Kyra M. Mata has also donated sewn PPEs to the Southern Philippine Medical Center and other parts of Davao City. A project called “Wear Together” with WearForward have made 335 isolation (or hazmat) suits and 500 gowns.
The real challenge is to make them close to a medical grade standard. Most of these hand sewn suits are made from taffeta SBL (Silver Black Lining) the same material used for water repellent umbrellas.
They cut patterns from this material that requires less sewing and has a covering over the fly. In sewing, they adjust the tension and make shorter stitches to make it air- tight. After that they do the water submersion test.
They sought advice from aInfectious Disease Specialist with their design of PPE suit and help from Kendi Maristela, who teaches in University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman College of Home Economics Clothing Tech Course, to make sure it is close to the medical grade standard.
Maristela is the same person who started the PPE design that is approved by the Department of Health (DOH). They can only make as much as long the supply of the materials is available. They use stocks that they already have and if they run out, they ask for donations while also spending money from their own pockets.
The Manila Protective Gear Sewing Club was organized for the sole purpose of making these PPEs suits. They donate them to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) who has started aiding healthcare workers since the shortage through donation, collaboration and calling for volunteers.
It is through the OVP that they distribute the PPEs so there will be less hassle. According to Cynthia Diaz and Mich Dulce, of Manila Protective Gear Sewing Club, that there are no medical-grade fabrics or medical-grade production companies in the Philippines.
In order to achieve the medical-grade standard they consider every detail and the construction of the design that is reviewed and tested by a medical organization such as a hospital or an independent medical consultant. The design they have has been medically-approved by the doctors behind the Open Source Covid19 Medical Supplies based in Berkeley, California.
One of the PPE suits designs by Erjohn dela Serna, Photo courtesy of Erjohn dela Serna
It is most rewarding to receive feedback from the different recipients of their PPEs that they donated. Healthcare workers are overwhelmed that there are people like them willing to help in these times of crisis despite the restrictions imposed by the quarantine.
They are also excited because of the different colors and designs of the PPE suit that is unusual to see. It also helps patients to recognize them which everyone is so grateful for. The advantages of these PPEs is that they are reusable and washable.
According to Dr. Winston Pascual, who is working in the National Center For Mental Health with COVID-19 patients, has approved of its quality. They are cleaned using bleach solution and bathed under the sun for its UV rays. Dr. Maria Almira Kiat, of Bataan General Hospital and Medical Center, said that as much as possible they autoclave besides washing.
Donated sewn PPE suits washed and dried, Photo courtesy of Kyla Mata
There are other areas where the healthcare workers are hesitant to autoclave them. The recipients of Kyra told her that even they have heat tested their PPE suits. Autoclave is one of the ways they can disinfect them properly, especially if used in direct contact with a COVID-19 patient.
Dr. Maria Almira said that they already have healthcare workers that got infected. That is why they categorize these PPE suits into two types A and B.
The type A are inside wards that are in full gear or complete overall suits where they attend positive and suspected COVID-19 patients. The other suits are considered type B where they use it outside the ward.
These PPE suits are more comfortable compared to the ones procured from China by the DOH. Other countries have rejected PPEs from China because of its defectiveness.
Despite the quarantine restriction people can still find a way to help in this time of crisis. It is people from the fashion community, from textile workers to designers, that can care for the needs of heroes who are the healthcare workers in the front line.
To quote Bill Cunningham, “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.”
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