FEEL GOOD | #HeroesWearMasks: NGO aims to distribute 18.5m masks to poorer communities

The organisation believes mask use should not be a privilege and that everyone should have access to them in order to prevent the spread. (Photo by Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi)
The organisation believes mask use should not be a privilege and that everyone should have access to them in order to prevent the spread. (Photo by Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi)
  • The fight against Covid-19 needs more interventions on prevention, the African Potential Foundation, which set to distribute masks, believes.
  • Under the #HeroesWearMasks, the NGO is aiming at distributing to impoverished areas where the risk is great.
  • The organisation aims to raise R1.2 billion in order to distribute masks to 18.5 million people.    

A non-profit organisation headed by a group of public health practitioners is gearing up for a campaign aimed at normalising the use of fabric masks by South Africans, in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19, especially in impoverished and high density areas. 

The African Potential Foundation (APF) has developed a strategy to distribute masks en-masse to communities that are mostly at high risk of contracting and transmitting the virus.

The organisation believes mask use should not be a privilege and that everyone should have access to them in order to prevent the spread. It also believes prevention will be much cheaper than treatment.  

Among those involved in the organisation is member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee, Professor Glenda Gray.  

The campaign, termed #HeroesWearMasks, plans to raise R1.2 billion for the manufacturing of 18.5 million mask-up packs that will be distributed to impoverished communities across the country.

Speaking to News24 about the campaign on Friday, Dr Jenny Coetzee, APF founder and chief executive, said the masks, which would be locally produced, were certified and had a medical grade filter that had been tested against the standard fabric and N95 versions.

Coetzee is also the head of Prevention in Key Populations at the Perinatal HIV Research Unit at Wits University.

Ready to use masks

The masks are:
  1. Sterilised and ready to use.
  2. Include a medical grade filter and designed to fit comfortably on face.  
  3. Locally produced.

The masks were comfortable and designed to fit around the nose, mouth and chin area, said Coetzee.  

The pack is set to come with three sterilised ready to use masks, to allow people to put them on without having to first wash them. 

Coetzee said each person would receive three masks, with the idea being that they wear one, carry a second for emergencies, while washing the third one.

"We are ensuring we are giving a very high quality mask to people who won't actually have access to it, but probably have the greatest risk profile.

"So it's guys who are living in high density setting, often very impoverished [and] are probably quite vulnerable to a multitude of diseases, and they are not going to have access to great healthcare.

"Some of them might be illegal immigrants, some of them might be local. We are unfazed about who we give them to. The point is that as a nation we need to be working together," Coetzee said.

ALSO READ | 'Poor social distancing, not wearing masks': People letting guard down at a most crucial time, says Mkhize

The mask pack will also come with a two-page infographic with instructions in five languages - English, isiZulu, isXhosa, Afrikaans and Sesotho. Additional languages are set to be added later.

The infographic has information on how to correctly wear and wash the masks, as well as tips on social distancing. 

The campaign will initially be focused in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, three of the country's most populous provinces.

Broader non-pharmaceutical approach

The campaign is being funded through corporate and private donations. 

Coetzee said the foundation was also working with the taxi industry. It was looking at assisting associations with sanitation and how to become ambassadors focused on educating people about the virus.

She said the organisation was also looking at ways in which it could help with an ongoing filtration or sanitation process in taxis, because the risk was high in vehicles transporting multiple people.

Dr Jenny Coetzee said:

#HeroesWearMasks is a much broader kind of non-pharmaceutical approach to how we address Covid-19 and how do we do it in a way that is very cognisant of our communities.

Speaking on the timelines, Coetzee said the process of negotiating funds for the campaign was underway.

She said the development of the process was important to them because they sought certification for the products.

The first order of masks had been placed and manufacturing was underway, said Coetzee.

She added that they hoped to start distributing the first batch within the next seven to 10 days.

"In terms of our timelines, the fundraising is an ongoing process. We've finished signing contracts with a variety of different corporates at the moment and have started receiving funds. It's a journey. We are not going to raise R1.5 billion overnight."

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