New Zealand pharmaceutical scientist and inventor Sir Ray Avery has raised concerns over the country's supplies of Chinese-made masks distributed to frontline hospital staff.
Avery told the Herald he had contacted health authorities in attempts to verify the manufacturers of imported masks and to check whether any testing had been done. To date, he had received no such confirmation, he said.
"New Zealand has never done testing on its masks as far as I can establish," he said. "As far as I can tell, we haven't complied with the accepted standards for testing."
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Agence France-Presse reports China has confiscated more than 89 million poor-quality face masks, as Beijing faces a slew of complaints about faulty protective gear exported worldwide.
Avery said many countries, including Spain, India, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Canada and Turkey were forced to recall hundreds of thousands of shoddy masks and pieces of protective gear imported from China.
"In the public's interest, I'm appealing to the Government to disclose the names of the Chinese manufacturers supplying so we can arrange for an independent external quality audit of the products. The lives of our frontline healthcare workers are at stake."
Avery last month launched a petition to highlight the importance of New Zealand's frontline medical staff having access to lifesaving personal protective clothing when dealing with people potentially infected with Covid-19.
The pharmaceutical scientist has specialised in the control of microbiological contamination in closed environments such as hospitals and pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing facilities.
Avery said protective gear suppliers are required by New Zealand and Australian regulatory standards to provide the name of the manufacturer, the name of the local distributor and the batch number and regulatory compliance details on the product packaging.
"The United States FDA and Australian TGA procurement process for PPE is to purchase products from regulatory-controlled, approved suppliers and one of the key tests for approval of face masks would include testing to ensure that 85 per cent of end-users obtained a good fit during normal face mask use.
"I have contacted five senior district health board managers and they have no record of any face mask testing conducted in their hospitals in living memory."
Avery said a poor-fitting mask was worse than useless to prevent Covid-19 infection.
"Dutch health officials last month recalled more than half a million Chinese masks which had already been sent to hospitals after complaints that they did not close over the face properly or had defective filters.
"There is a very real possibility that the masks that have been brought into New Zealand may not be fit for purpose.
"I have more than 30 years' experience in purchasing PPE and HEPA Filters from China and what we learnt is that the PPE CE mark and accreditation certificates are not worth the paper they are printed on."
Avery said it was common for most Chinese PPE suppliers to export a product under one licensed company name but source their products from second-, third- or fourth-party factories.
"Even with some of our most reliable Chinese suppliers, we have to reject some batches because they do not meet the required standards and are not fit for purpose. So, we test every batch of product supplied from China and right now this is more important than ever to do so."
Avery said there is no social distancing in New Zealand between healthcare workers and their patients and the difference between life and death for both parties may come down to the quality of PPE used.
"To date, 130 frontline health-care workers are probable or confirmed Covid-19 cases. Fifty per cent of them were infected in the workplace and there is a very real probability that some of the Covid-19 deaths were due to infections caused by frontline healthcare workers infecting their patients due to not wearing the correct PPE or defective PPE."
Avery pointed out Auditor-General John Ryan has been commissioned to conduct an independent inquiry into the procurement and distribution of PPE in New Zealand.
"This will take about four weeks to complete and by this time, as in Denmark, faulty PPE could be distributed to all our DHBs. The lives of our frontline healthcare workers are at stake."
China was producing more than 116 million masks per day, according to official figures, and had exported more than one billion masks this year, commerce ministry official Li Xingqian has said.