FAQ on Personal Protective Equipment

I wrote this post to clear the air on some commonly asked questions on PPE by the general public.

1. What are PPE?

Personal protective equipment (short form: PPE) are equipment used to protect the wearer against occupational hazards. In the context of of healthcare, these hazards are mainly biological.In this season of Covid-19 which pose a serious biological hazard, PPE is a crucial component in the fight. They are meant to protect the workers against droplets or airborne pathogens.

PPE in the context of healthcare workers (HCWs) generally include:- surgical face mask- respirators i.e. N95, KN95, full-face / half-face respirator etc- face shield / goggle- isolation gown- coverall- CPE long-sleeved gown with thumb hook- hood / tudung cover- boot cover- shoe cover- gloves

2. Are PPE alone enough to prevent against this disease?

NO! When we talk about hazard control, in the hierarchical order, PPE is actually the LEAST EFFECTIVE control measure. Other measures are more effective, namely:- Engineering (negative pressure rooms)- Isolation + barriers (for example, plastic sheets to prevent close contact between patient & HCW)- Administrative measures (job rotation, work from home, shift system to reduce manpower present at workplace, social distancing)

However, healthcare settings pose a challenge as HCW’s still need to come in close contact with patients to provide care. After all the other measures have been implemented, PPE remains the last step which is still important.

3. Why do hospitals need so many PPE during this Covid-19 pandemic?

The PPE mentioned above are generally one-off disposables, meaning they are meant to be worn once then disposed off properly according to existing environmental and biohazard regulations.

Why this strict regulation? Because when healthcare worker comes in contact with patients, the PPE will get contaminated. To prevent cross contamination, technically a healthcare worker will need to throw away their PPE and change to a new one when caring for the next patient.

Generally, 1 patient requires the care of at least a few healthcare providers including nurses, medical assistants and doctors.

Imagine the patient flow: from the triage at the emergency department all the way up admission into ward, the patient will have been in contact with at least 10 or more healthcare workers. After admission, he or she will still need care daily. This means the usage of PPE is extremely high in this season of Covid-19.

Case in point: Hospital Umum Sarawak uses up to 800 – 1000 pieces of different types of PPE daily. Yes, DAILY!

So the next time you wonder why the plea for help for more PPE is never-ending, I hope my writing helps to clear the air a bit. Our fight is far from over, as we foresee an extended battle!

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