Tuesday, 09 Jun 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: With face masks now widely sold in the country, questions remain on whether they meet the necessary standards to provide protection from Covid-19.

Association of Malaysian Medical Industries secretary-general Datuk Haminnuddin Abd Hamid said if someone chose to wear a face mask, the standard three-ply medical-

grade variety was recommended as it had a bacterial filtration efficiency rate of 95%.

“Non-medical grade face masks trap dust particles only and offer no real protection against viruses, ” he said, adding that face masks used in healthcare facilities such as hospitals must be registered with the Medical Device Authority (MDA) Malaysia, a body under the Health Ministry.

He added, however, that no one was checking the quality of masks sold publicly for use in non-medical settings.

This means poor quality masks that either do not have filters or come with ineffective filters – both of which allow viruses to pass through the mask – may end up being sold to the public.

“The challenge is that even if the public wants good quality three-ply face masks, there will still not be enough, ” Haminnuddin said, adding that two-ply masks did not have filters.

Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society president Amrahi Buang said face masks should be properly graded so that the public could make an informed choice.

“At the moment, three-ply masks offer the best protection for the public, but there are no proper quality checks in the market (outside healthcare settings), ” said Amrahi.He explained that the need for quality certification was not an issue prior to Covid-19 as these masks were used mainly in healthcare settings, where they were already subjected to accreditation by MDA.

But since the Covid-19 outbreak, many players had taken advantage of the situation by producing masks without much thought for quality, Amrahi said.

MDA CEO Ahmad Shariff Hambali said the high demand for three-ply masks during the pandemic had led to a serious global shortage, and the situation worsened when producing countries started restricting exports to protect the welfare of their own citizens.

This led to the increase in the price of face masks and the mushrooming of many sellers making unsubstantiated claims on the performance of their masks, he added.

Acknowledging calls for MDA to monitor all face masks in the market, Ahmad Shariff said there were no facilities to test masks here to verify quality claims.

“Similar to approval systems in many other jurisdictions, MDA relies on the documented evidence to support the manufacturer’s declaration of safety and performance of their face masks, which may include evidence that it had been approved by the authorities in other jurisdictions such as the United States, Europe or China, ” he said.

He added that this accreditation process was in accordance with the Medical Device Act.

“However, those that are not intended to be used for surgical or other medical procedures do not need MDA’s approval, ” he said.

On June 6, the World Health Organisation issued revised guidelines on mask-wearing for the general public in areas with active community transmission and where physical distancing is either difficult or impossible.

However, Ahmad Shariff cautioned against over-reliance on masks in the battle against Covid-19.“Whether or not masks are used, maximum compliance with infection control measures is critical.

“A face mask is not a replacement for physical distancing, hand hygiene and other public health measures, ” he said.

To minimise the risk of buying substandard masks, Emeritus Prof Dr Yuen Kah Hay, who was formerly with Universiti Sains Malaysia’s School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, said people should only buy them from reputable outlets such as pharmacies.

“Like medicine, people should not buy them from just anywhere, ” he said.

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