With masks, protecting the protectors
It's very touching to see our doctors, nurses and healthcare workers labouring tirelessly to deal with the increasing numbers of Covid-19-infected patients. But, it's quite hurtful to know that these medical personnel who remain at the front lines of the disease are at risk of contracting the deadly coronavirus themselves because they lack the proper protective gear.
Considered a basic but necessary gear to protect ourselves from the spread of this pandemic disease, medical face masks have currently become one of the most sought-after items, with prices soaring beyond the affordability of most ordinary people. Adding insult to injury is the fact that our country's production capacity is still far below the overall demand.
In dire need of face masks, hospitals across the country are asking people to donate them for their medical staff. With the number of infected cases rapidly escalating, however, it's hard to determine how many masks will be enough and, worse, where they can be acquired for donation in the first place.
While we're at a total loss at what to do, here comes the "Mask Bank" project, which aims to construct factories in every region of Thailand in order to produce standard medical face masks at reasonable prices.
Launched last week, the project is the brainchild of Sireethorn "Bint" Leearamwat, a Thai beauty queen who was crowned Miss Thailand 2019 and then Miss International 2019. As a pharmacist, she is worried about the severe shortage of face masks and wishes to present a long-term solution. She has employed the method of donation-based crowdfunding for this not-for-profit initiative, which allows every member of the public to place an order to buy the masks at 2.50 baht each with an unlimited amount. Only one condition is that they will receive only half of that amount while the other half will be set aside for donation to their choices of public health units, hospitals, schools or charitable organisations in need.
The "buy one, donate one" concept is the core of this project, which was born out of Sireethorn's concern that Thai people don't have enough masks to use during this Covid-19 crisis. Even though Thai manufacturers have already increased their capacity to produce up to 2.2 million masks per day, the amount is far less from the country's daily requirement of at least 10 million pieces.
Under this concept, she believes that the Mask Bank will always have a lot of masks in stock and they can be promptly distributed to those in need in case severe incidents arise. "If we can solve this problem in the long term, history will not repeat itself when we are to face a new epidemic in the future," she said.
However, it will take around six weeks for the project to take shape. According to the master plan, new factories will be registered as a non-profit community enterprise and the machines will be imported from China with the help of the Chinese ambassador to Thailand while the raw materials will be imported from Indonesia with the support by the Indonesian ambassador to Thailand.
The project also has a long-term plan to import filter sheet-making machines. This will allow the factories to be able to produce the masks without having to rely on the imported raw materials.