Decontamination project helps low-income countries reuse N95 masks

February 28, 2022
Decontamination project helps low-income countries reuse N95 masks

COVID-19 has led to a shortage of N95 facial masks particularly in low-income countries. An international group of physicists, engineers, and physicians – building on a project conducted at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) – have designed a cheap, easy-to-construct cabinet to help with decontamination of N95 masks.

Unlike costly decontamination equipment used in several US hospitals, a metal office storage cabinet lined with household aluminum foil, with UV-C bulbs at the front and back, was used to build a workable prototype.

“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 who led the effort at UCSF.

The decontamination process takes about 10 minutes. The team estimates the cabinet can be built for about US$500 to US$1,500 per unit, depending on location. The cabinet is also able to process nearly 5,000 masks per day at maximum capacity.

“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,” Dr. Starr said.

So far, engineering teams in nine countries and hospitals in 12 countries have worked on the project, sometimes liaising with embassies to arrange for shipments of the necessary components.

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