Kebs says Kisumu medics using sub-standard surgical face masks

Thursday July 30 2020

A woman wearing a surgical face mask. Kebs has confirmed that the surgical face masks being used by Kisumu health workers are sub-standard. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) has confirmed that the surgical face masks being used by Kisumu health workers are sub-standard.

In effect, this means the health staff have been going about their work with a false sense of protection while exposing themselves to Covid-19 infection.

Kebs investigated the quality of the masks that the doctors have been using after they were presented for analysis through their National Nurses Association of Kenya (NNAK) who lodged a complaint on July 14.

“From our investigation, the surgical masks failed to comply with the requirements of KS 2636:2016 Kenya Standard-Surgical Masks Specifications,” said Ms Emelda Kogai who spoke on behalf the Kebs regional manager.

According to Kebs, the masks were supplied by Hela Intimates EPZ Limited to Kisumu County.

It has since emerged that the masks were also supplied to the Council of Governors (CoG).


Kebs went ahead to delist three brands namely WAMNDAS manufactured by Wandas General Supplies, ARAX manufactured by Arax Mills and a mask manufactured by Hela Intimates EPZ which was not branded.


In a report obtained by Nation, the quality control agency said the manufacturers supplying the surgical face masks failed to give their type and weight among other requirements.

Earlier in July, nurses in Kisumu had raised concerns over the quality of the face mask supplied by the county government. They noted that the masks were made of biodegradable textile, similar to what is used in the production of polypropylene bags.

Kisumu National Nurses Association of Kenya Chairman Collins Ajwang told the Nation that they started receiving the face masks almost four weeks ago.

"They came in big bunches from Hela Company EPZ Nairobi. We noticed they were not of [good] quality,” he said.

The union consequently filed a complaint at Kebs Kibos office seeking to establish the quality of the face masks.

"We found out Hella EPZ Company was accredited to produce facemasks. The first facemasks supplied were of good quality but the subsequent supplies were totally faulty," said Mr Ajwang.

"When Kebs did their inspections they found out that the cartons were not labelled, lacked details of the products, address, Kebs mark and the supplier. The boxes were labelled 'Made in India',” he added.

He said similar the face masks were supplied to the CoG.

"It was ordered by the CoG for various counties, not only in Kisumu but Kakamega as well," said Mr Ajwang.


"If these facemasks are not withdrawn they will put health workers at risk. In fact, we have asked the county government to do tests on all the health workers considering that we have been using the face masks for the past three weeks," he added.

Currently, about four health workers in Kisumu County have tested positive for Covid-19.

"We suspect in the process of using these facemasks they have been exposed to the coronavirus. The numbers could be more," Mr Ajwang said.

Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) Deputy Secretary Maurice Opetu demanded the immediate withdrawal of the substandard masks.

"Healthcare workers should be advised to desist from using the EPZ facemasks until the employer provides the right facemasks," said Mr Opetu.

He said any health worker who might have contracted Covid-19 in line of duty during the period that the substandard facemasks were in use in the county should be treated and compensated by Kisumu County government, the Ministry of Health and EPZ.


Mr Opetu has called for immediate investigations to establish how the substandard masks found their way into hospitals and the responsible officers be put to task.

NNAK National Chairman Alfred Obengo also put the oversight board charged with the task of procurement of facemasks and personal protective equipment (PPE) to task.

"Sometimes what you check at the factory is not what is delivered to the hospitals. For the ones being supplied at the county government we have no control," he stated.

He added, "We must make sure we give our people quality PPE. It is better to work without PPE than use substandard ones. You are actually sentencing the health workers to death."

The union officials spoke amid concerns over the increasing number of Covid-19 infections among health workers across counties.


In Kakamega, the county general hospital’s theatre was closed down after the lead surgeon tested positive for coronavirus.

Doctors and nurses at the hospital have asked the management to ensure they are provided with N95 masks to protect them from infections.

“The surgical team recommends suspension of surgeries for 24 hours to allow fumigation of the theatres. Operations will resume after the results are out. The purpose of this letter, therefore, is to highlight our precarious position and request for provision of N95 masks to all surgical staff and adopt shifts that limit exposure to the staff,” said the consultant surgeon, Dr Richard Olunga.

Knun secretary Renson Bulunya said although the hospital had provided PPE to the doctors, more precautions should be taken to avoid exposing them to infections while on duty.

"The county government needs to get serious and ensure our doctors and nurses who are on the frontline in battling the pandemic are protected," said Mr Bulunya.


In Kisii, two nurses and a biomedical engineer are among 27 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 in the region so far. The three contracted the virus while on duty and they are currently in isolation.

Speaking to the Nation on Thursday, the County Public Health Director Richard Onkware said medical staff have been issued with enough PPE.

“We are striving to ensure they are protected while on duty. We also have a nurse and a clinical officer who have tested positive in our facility but they are from Homa Bay and Migori counties respectively,” he said. 

Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) officials in the region accused the county government of what they termed as ill-preparedness.

Led by the Branch Treasurer Peter Murebu, the official said hospitals in the region are facing a shortage of PPE. They accused the county government of peddling misleading information that doctors are well protected.

“Let truth be told, medics are not protected from this virus because we scramble for the few PPE that are available. If there are PPE that the county government has procured let them be made available to the staff,” said Dr Murebu.


He said the county government has failed to organise trainings for health workers on how to handle new cases.

In Migori, 16 health staff have contacted the virus.

Healthcare providers have accused the county government of neglect amidst rising cases of Covid-19 in the county.

By Wednesday, Migori County had recorded 286 positive cases with healthcare workers now fearing attending to patients over safety concerns.

They said hospitals in the region lack sufficient PPE supplies.

A clinician told the Nation they are being provided with one mask each after every two days.

At the sub-county hospitals, staff in the outpatient departments and those on night shifts are buying their own masks.

The concerns come barely a week after Governor Okoth Obado received a batch of PPE' from Equity Bank meant for the frontline health workers.

“We are doing all we can to ensure that our healthcare providers are safeguarded from this dreaded virus. The revelation that 16 health practitioners and one county assembly staff are infected is a big blow to our county workforce,” Mr Obado said at Migori County Hospital after receiving the equipment from Equity Group Foundation last week.

But County Healthy Executive Isca Oluoch maintained that the doctors are fully equipped with PPE to enable them deliver.

In Bomet, 15 of the 29 people in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 are health workers in various cadres. Four of them tested positive on Thursday.

Additional Reporting by Benson Amadala, Benson Ayienda, Vitalis Kimutai and Ian Byron