The fight against Covid-19 is far from over and we need a better tool to defeat the virus – Vihelm

The fight against Covid-19 is far from over and we need a better tool to defeat the virus

The spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) around the world has put a heavy burden on human society and is also a great challenge facing medical staff. Global data indicate that the pandemic is far from over. Currently, only four out of 188 countries and territories have reported no new cases for four weeks in a row.  India is facing the world’s worst case of Covid-19 as cases surged by more than 400,000 for the third consecutive day on May 8. As India’s coronavirus catastrophe worsens, new waves of infections are fast engulfing a growing number of nations across South and Southeast Asia — with some grappling with their worst outbreaks since the pandemic began.

Although many countries are reporting fewer new coronavirus infections, global data indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.

Frontline healthcare workers are suffering from the limitations of current protective tools

Healthcare workers (HCWs) are at particular risk during pandemics and epidemics of highly virulent diseases with significant morbidity and case fatality rate. These diseases include severe acute respiratory syndrome coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Ebola. With the current pandemic, it is critical to delineate appropriate contextual respiratory protection for HCWs.

Since early 2020, the US has experienced a severe shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) needed by healthcare workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic (Emanuel et al., 2020; Livingston et al., 2020). In protests covered by the news media, healthcare workers compared themselves to firefighters putting out fires without water and soldiers going into combat with cardboard body armor. Medical professionals have called for federal government action to mobilize and distribute adequate supplies of protective equipment.

Meanwhile, the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) said the province hasn’t done enough to protect health-care workers from COVID-19, singling out a directive from Ontario’s chief medical officer of health as inadequate. At the time of the application, the ONA said nearly 19,000 health-care workers had been infected in the province.

To make matters worse, a study by 9 medical professionals titled “Barriers to using personal protective equipment by healthcare staff during the COVID-19 outbreak in China” pointed out a variety of limitations of current PPE items used by healthcare workers.

The core components of currently recommended PPE against COVID-19 require covering all parts of the body using head/neck covers and boots or closed shoes. As the number of PPE items increased, the doffing process involving multiple steps generally rendered the use of PPE more tedious and difficult. For example, the outer gloves were not the first doffing item when the outer shoe cover ropes were untied first. Sometimes the overlapping parts of different PPE items were inadequate, such as the gaps between an N95 respirator and safety goggles, and using separate items for the head covering and face shield may expose the forehead (Fan, et al., 2020).

Essentially speaking, face masks and coverings are not 100% effective at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, according to a September study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Safety glasses/goggles fogged frequently, limiting visibility. Wearing an N95 respiratory protective mask with safety glasses/goggles further exacerbated fogging and restricted visibility. Poor visibility and hearing in PPE led some health care personnel (HCP) to feel anxious or afraid, and some HCP had topical allergic reactions resulting from PPE use.

Dr. Gay Marjorie Obrado is a cardiologist on the COVID-19 floor of Manila Doctors Hospital, an area exclusively serving COVID-19 patients. For 12 hours each day, she’s in full PPE set—a hazmat suit, tight-fitting N95 mask, goggles. She endures the discomforts of her “uniform” that gets unbearably hot even in a fully air-conditioned room (“There have been many times I felt like I would pass out”).

“I would be soaked in sweat inside; some would get into my eyes. My body would start to itch, but I could not even scratch it,” Obrado told Lifestyle.

HCP mentioned overheating in various forms of PPE, usually after wearing coveralls for a short period. They described heat as a major factor affecting comfort during PPE use. Working in impermeable coveralls was reportedly difficult, as workers wearing PPE sweated profusely, even with minimal exertion, and felt as though they were in a steamer. These excessive physical burdens significantly reduced the time that HCP in PPE spent taking care of patients and increased the physical demands of their work.

In addition, some areas were not well covered by PPE, for instance, gowns were often too large and left parts of the neck exposed, even when sized appropriately. (Fan, et al., 2020). More importantly, improper sizing of PPE could hinder nursing procedures and even puncture procedures and increase the risk of occupational exposure. For instance, 1 nurse suffered a needle stick wound while collecting venous blood from a confirmed COVID-19 patient due to oversized gloves.

Vaccines are not the way out either. At least not yet

Global coronavirus deaths are at their highest rate since the pandemic began and the World Health Organization (WHO) has said there are not enough vaccines to bring the global crisis under control on their own.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove of the Health Emergencies Program urged people not to see vaccines as the only way out of the pandemic. “We need everyone around the world to keep yourself safe, minimise exposure and don’t allow the virus to spread”, she urged.

Dr Van Kerkhove’s warnings echoed those of WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Vaccines remain a vital tool. But right now, the volume and distribution of vaccines is insufficient to end the COVID-19 pandemic, without the sustained and tailored application of public health measures that we know work”, he said.

Dr Ghebreyesus believed that the damage of coronavirus went further than the number of deaths caused by the disease, and affected “everything” about people’s lives. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a vivid demonstration that a health crisis is not just a health crisis,” he insisted. “It can have dramatic consequences for livelihoods, businesses and economies as well”.

The solution we need right now

For the present term, the best chance we have in defeating Covid-19 is to sort out the PPE’s shortcomings and to come up with a better, more comprehensive version, one that:

  • Covers the head completely
  • Enables wearers to carry out basic activities
  • Prolongs use time
  • Doesn’t interfere with daily life, and better yet, allows wearers to get back to normal life

The closest to that ideal tool, is PAPRs (Powered Air Purifying Respirators), which are designed for short-term wear and they can cause irritation, headaches and pain if worn for long, which is not suitable for people who need long-term protection in such case as an pandemic or those who work long shifts in dangerous environments.  

Vihelm’s invention

Vihelm is a personal protective equipment set that upgrades the concept of a traditional PAPR with added features to extend product’s use and maximize comfort, convenience and communication. It provides a better method to contain respiratory viruses that doesn’t disturb people’s lives or affect the economy. The set includes two main parts – a respirator blower and a helmet – which are connected by a breathing tube. The blower with 2 filter layers (a nonwoven filter and a HEPA filter), which can be worn on the waist with a belt, pushes clean air into the helmet through the breathing tube. The helmet is fitted with an adjustable strap to completely cover the wearer’s head, keeping out pathogens, pollutants, and respiratory droplets.

Added features including a built-in glove, 2 side pockets, 6 scratching holes on top of the helmet allow wearers to carry out basic activities such as wiping their face, scratching their nose and head, even eating or drinking without having to take their helmet off and risking getting exposed. Meanwhile, wide viewing visor and voice-out and safety valves enable effective communication.

With Vihelm, you don’t have to be torn between two options: staying home safely without an income or risking your life while trying to make a living.





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