Global Project Helps Low-Income Countries Reuse N95 Masks

(Reuters) – An international group of physicists, engineers and physicians has designed a cheap, easy-to-construct cabinet with ultraviolet-C (UV-C) bulbs that has allowed health clinics in lower-income countries to decontaminate and reuse over 900,000 protective N95 masks.

The prototype was constructed using a metal office storage cabinet lined with household aluminum foil, with UV-C bulbs at the front and back, consortium members reported in NEJM Catalyst.

“You simply load the masks on a rack, put them in the cabinet, shut the doors and turn the device on to apply the right dose of UV-C to inactivate the COVID-19 virus,” said Dr. Nicole Starr, a surgery trainee at the University of California, San Francisco who led the effort. The process takes about 10 minutes.

Once the group had a workable design, they recruited members of local student chapters of the optics society Optica to build the cabinets, sometimes working with embassies to arrange for shipments of the necessary components. Engineering teams in nine countries and hospitals in 12 countries worked on the project.

“Overall, 21 cabinets were put into use in hospitals, and we estimate that 930,000 N95s were decontaminated for reuse from July 2020 to January 2022,” Starr said.

Decontamination equipment currently used in U.S. hospitals can cost $80,000 per unit, according to the report. The team estimated that their cabinet can be built for about $500 to $1,500 depending on location and can process nearly 5,000 masks per day at maximum capacity.

SOURCE: NEJM Catalyst, online February 16, 2022.

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