Quack supplies

A COTTAGE industry is cropping up around the provision of materials for the sanitisation of hands and surfaces, as demand shoots up across the country on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. We now have sugar mills and a brewery trying to enter the hand sanitiser market, while fibre glass manufacturers and fabricators are getting into the business of supplying disinfectant walk-through gates to an increasing number of buyers for official buildings, marketplaces etc. This is a natural response to the sharply rising demand for these products, but the growing cottage industry needs to be regulated. A recent survey by the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority, for example, found that 23 of the total samples of the new hand sanitiser products they tested were substandard and would be ineffective against the coronavirus. A similar test now needs to be done on walk-through disinfectant gates, or tunnels, that are also mushrooming across the country.

The spread of these bootleg technologies is dangerous, especially because it may create a false sense of security among those who use it. For example, trader bodies are now urging provincial governments to allow the reopening of markets if they instal these walk-through disinfectant gates. The provincial authorities must refuse this offer and let the trader bodies know that the utility of these disinfectant gates or tunnels is very limited. They are alright perhaps for cargo supplies, but having people walk through them will do little to mitigate the possibility of being infected by a virus carrier. Beyond a false sense of security, what is particularly dangerous about these new unregulated technologies is the total lack of awareness regarding what is and is not a suitable disinfectant to use. According to a report in this newspaper, for example, doctors have warned that some of the chemicals being used for these walk-through gates are themselves toxic and pose a risk to the health of anyone who passes through them; they do nothing much when it comes to disinfecting. Strong notice needs to be taken of this proliferating cottage industry. Perhaps the PSQCA can do a similar study on these walk-through gates, and particularly the chemicals being used in them. Drap should consider releasing a list of approved chemicals for such use, as well as give guidance on what these walk-through gates can be used for, and where they will only be unhelpful.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2020