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‘Breathability’ and comfort of PPE for COVID-19 workforce should not be compromised

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There is a difference between waterproof, water-repellent and water-resistant PPE available to healthcare workers today, and when you start to add breathability into the mix, things can start to get a little complicated. So, what do they all mean and why should you take note of the differences? Upkar Sharma, Founder and CEO, CREA Worldwide explains in detail in an interaction with Raelene Kambli

What is the difference among a water-resistant, water-repellent and waterproof PPE?

All three terms are alluding to the degree of water-resistance of fabric on a linear scale. That, however, does not give the complete picture of safety or quality of PPE. Specifically speaking about COVID-19, the requirement of the PPE is to be hydrophobic so as to clear the ISO:16603 standards of water resistance at class three exposure and above. However, this is an incomplete picture, the picture completes itself when a caveat “PPE should be breathable for the comfort of the wearer” is attached. At CREA, our entire focus is to make sure we make PPE for COVID warriors which is COVID-safe and provide maximum comfort.

What is the cost difference among these PPE?

Our PPE kits range between Rs 550 to Rs 1,050; most of our breathable solutions are between Rs 550 and Rs 750 per kit.

How would you explain a breathable yet hydrophobic (water-repelling) PPE kit? What would be the benefits of such PPE to healthcare workers?

The role of any kind of PPE is to protect, while being wearable and comfortable. In certain kinds of PPE, specifically dealing with hazardous material, fumes, vapour or substance, the PPE can be non-breathable, and ventilation is provided through external means like air ducts and motors. Those are usually called Hazmat suits (Hazmat: Hazardous Material).

For the COVID-19 safety, since the mode of transmission of the virus is through liquid droplet and aerosol, the suits need to be hydrophobic, meaning they should be sufficiently water-resistant to protect the wearer from splash, cough, fine aerosol of sneeze and cough, they also need to allow for evaporation for the body of the wearer to cool down. Human body auto regulates its temperature by three modes – evaporation, radiation and conduction/convection. Fifty five per cent of our temperature is controlled by the way of evaporation of perspiration, breathable PPE allows for that to happen while protecting the wearer from external contamination. Wearing such PPE is essential, and not optional. Our healthcare heroes are working round the clock to serve and care for patients and it is imperative that their safety and comfort is given the kind of attention it deserves.

From a business point of view, do you think that there is a billion-dollar opportunity from PPE business in India?

If we have to become a self-sufficient (aatmanirbhar) society, we need to stop thinking in billions and dollars. To begin with, we need to focus on being the best we can be. Do you think a Japanese company thinks of any opportunity in billions of dollars? They think in their terms, their realities and their market to start with. We at CREA are focussed on solving a real problem, if it leads to an opportunity in dollars, pounds, euros or Turkish lira, we welcome that!  Our real focus is solving the problem and if I must import a term, then it will be ‘KAIZEN’, meaning continuous improvement.

As far as an opportunity is concerned, yes, it is a huge opportunity and more innovators should jump in. Most importantly, however, we should provide our doctors, nurses, sanitary workers and police force with world-class PPE. It’s our duty.

The Indian Navy and IIT students have also come up with breathable yet hydrophobic (water-repelling) PPE kits. How would yours be different?

We have just read the news, but we don’t know what they have developed. Our solutions need not be different, they need to be cost-effective and safe. We would love to collaborate with anyone who’s thinking of solutions to this need of our country. We don’t view it as competition, we view it as an opportunity to co-create, collaborate and improve.

CREA is amongst the few companies to have received a DRDO Level 4 certification on PPE. How does that give you more advantage?

COVID-19 has called for a need for specialised hospitals that already exist in India. These hospitals have a mandate to have PPE kits that are certified Level 3 and above. What this means is that ‘breathability’ and comfort will not, and should not be compromised for the workforce.

CREA has also been certified a Level 6 too, this, however, is just one test and until the medical authorities and the Government realise that just one test doesn’t suffice, cheap, certified and uncertified PPE kits will continue to exist in the market and will continue to disappoint workforces who are constantly fighting the disease.

We just want to focus on becoming one of the best in the world and the time is now. We are working tirelessly and shall continue to do so till we achieve what we set out to achieve.

India, for its medical and defence requirements, cannot be dependent on other countries. CREA will play a part in making sure we are ‘aatmanirbhar’ where it truly matters.

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