PPE manufacturers prove to be biggest gainers in pandemic gloom

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In the ongoing global pandemic crisis, one industry has been the absolute centre of attention for demand of its products the personal protective equipment (PPM) market! Consumers and workers alike are creating an ever increasing and rising demand for hand protection, respiratory protection, and protective clothing to ensure their safety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is expected to boost the demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Rising awareness regarding advantages of hygiene for avoiding contamination is anticipated to drive the demand for hand, facial and full suit protection equipment. Furthermore, increasing adoption of these devices to limit the spread of COVID-19 infection through surface contact is expected to drive the demand.

In fact, two recent reports from Grand View Research predict continuing substantial growth in the market. The first report projected that the global personal protective equipment market size, which was estimated at USD 55.60 billion in 2019, is expected to reach USD $59.50 billion in 2020. Yet another report from them projected more into the future saying that the global personal protective equipment market size is expected to reach USD $84.7 billion by 2027, registering a 6.7 per cent CAGR over the forecast period.

Some of the key suggestions from the Grandview report are: “The demand for disposable gloves in North America is estimated to witness a growth of 8.6 per cent in terms of revenue, from 2020 to 2027 on account of the presence of stringent regulations regarding health and safety of the health workers; Respiratory protective equipment accounted for over 10.8 per cent of the global revenue in 2019 owing to the increased demand for surgical masks and respirators for providing protection to the hospital staff against contaminants and pathogens; Hospitals accounted for 55.7 per cent of the healthcare Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) industry in 2019, on account of rising number of people opting for medical services for treatment coupled with increasing number of physicians in the emerging economies.”

Those issues have spurred new innovation, as inventors strive to make PPE cheaper, safer, more comfortable, and more accessible – and, in many cases, may see opportunities to turn a profit while doing so. Already, some new designs have earned praise from experts. Many others have not yet demonstrated that they’re any more effective than a standard cloth mask.

“My concern is people are going to be spending a lot of money based on hype, which is not going to give them or anybody else any additional protection,” said Gary Garber, an infectious disease physician who also works with Public Health Ontario in Canada.

On crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, inventors have raised millions of dollars for new designs of face masks, gloves, and other PPE. University engineering labs have turned their attention to making masks and face shields and the results range from clever to outlandish. It’s now possible to find start-ups crowdfunding for or selling a silver-plated antimicrobial glove, a facemask hidden in the brim of a hat, and a protective bubble that covers the user from head to chest. (All three designs have raised thousands of dollars on crowdfunding sites).

Other inventions include a 3D-printed mask that’s tailored to each individual’s face using artificial intelligence, and a plastic device that lets people get gas without touching the pump. Efforts to produce transparent masks, which allow communication for people who read lips, predate the pandemic, but have experienced a surge of interest and investment.

Some designs come out of long experience. Before Covid-19 arrived, James Byrne, a radiation oncologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a postdoctoral researcher at MIT, was accustomed to using an N95 to see a patient and then, he says, “chucking it in the trash.” Byrne and several colleagues have now turned their attention to designing a mask that, like the N95 respirator, can filter out 95 per cent of airborne particles — but that is easier and more cost-effective to reuse.

The Injection Molded Autoclavable, Scalable, Conformable (iMASC) prototype is made from clear silicone rubber and has two circular filters located near the mouth. Recently, following government safety standards, researchers, in a test, sprayed 20 iMASC-wearing participants with aerosolised saccharin, a sweet-tasting chemical. If participants could taste the saccharin at any point, the fit test was failed. All of them passed, and 95 percent of participants rated the breathability of the iMASC as either excellent or good.

The team is still in the process of performing more in-depth testing on the filtration efficiency and breathability of different filter materials. However, it is still to be determined how the masks perform during extended wear.

The iMASC is intended for health care workers, and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not currently recommend that the general public wear N95 masks. But there’s still demand for higher-quality protection — or at least masks that claim to be higher-quality protection — as well as masks that solve basic issues of comfort and fit.

Some masks claiming to solve those problems have been blockbusters. Since June 25, the UVMask from Colorado-based UM Systems, an optical and biotechnology company and subsidiary of Measure Inc., has raised over $3 million on crowdfunding platforms. Air coming into the mask passes through an N95-equivalent replaceable filter and then enters a “sterile vortex” where it is treated with UV-C light, which can inactivate viruses by damaging their genetic material. Without current campaign discounts, the product will cost $249. (The mask includes batteries, a charger, and 10 filters; additional disposable filters have to be purchased separately).

According to a testing facility in China accredited by the European Testing Inspection Certification System, the sterile vortex is able to kill more than 99.99 percent of bacteria over the span of three seconds. Boz Zou, co-founder and CEO of UM Systems, says that the company plans to test the device on virus inactivation as well. The mask, he says, will “absolutely” be better than an N95. However, the mask has not yet undergone testing from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a federal agency in the U.S., to confirm that claim.

Article by Arijit Nag
Arijit Nag is a freelance journalist who writes on various aspects of the economy and current affairs.
Read more article of Arijit Nag


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