COLLABORATION

University of Birmingham,Public Health England to amplify hand sanitiser production

SOURCE: Phillip Fong/AFP
Due to public concern, Public Health England has identified the severe shortage of supplies for front-liners.

The University of Birmingham is stepping up in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak by contributing its world-class lab facilities to produce hand sanitisers in collaboration with Public Health England and the Birmingham City Council

A team of technicians at the university’s Collaborative Teaching Laboratory (CTL) have responded to a personal request from Public Health England to provide their support in producing hand sanitiser to be used by social care workers across Birmingham. 

The hand sanitisers are being produced using the university’s lab facilities and equipment according to the official formula guidelines released by the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

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The sanitiser produced at the lab will be sent over to Birmingham City Council’s Council House to be packed and distributed to front-line staff. 

“We are working hard to deploy the university’s expertise and resources in a variety of ways to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including analysing the virus and its epidemiology,” said University of Birmingham’s Pro-Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Engineering and Physical Science.

“We are also fortunate to have world-class facilities, such as our flagship Collaborative Teaching Laboratory, in which we train students in chemistry, chemical engineering, and wider engineering disciplines and formulate a wide variety of products including those found in the household.

“In response to the pandemic, and as part of our responsibilities as a Civic University, we are converting this facility to produce hand sanitiser for those working on the frontline to prevent the transmission of the virus by ensuring they can keep their hands clean.”

A dire need for supplies 

As the pandemic continues to spread worldwide, medical supplies including hand sanitisers, face masks, and protective gear are rapidly running scarce. Especially for those on the front-line where the need is even more essential. 

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization addressed industries and governments across the world to increase the manufacturing of personal protective equipment (PPE) by 40 percent to meet the rising demand caused by panic buying, hoarding and misuse. 

This has spurred universities, research facilities and industries to refurbish their production lines to manufacture essential health supplies instead. 

The UK is not spared from this shortage, as panic buying has caused a severe need for supplies such as hand sanitiser and face masks for both public and front-liner use. 

Public Health England
Shelves of medical supplies and essentials are cleared in minutes. Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP.

UK on Lockdown 

The initiative by the University of Birmingham has launched at the perfect timing to prioritise supplies for social workers on the front-line. 

This comes just before Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for the public to stay at home with the exception of those who intend to shop for basic necessities, daily exercise, medical care or those who are working for essential industries and need to travel to and from work. 

To further enforce this order, which is effective immediately, shops selling non-essential goods will be closed and public gatherings consisting more than two people who do not live together are prohibited. 

This measure has been implemented by the UK government in order to slow the spread of the disease and to ensure the NHS and medical services are able to cope with the influx of sick people. 

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The University of Birmingham will then be able to focus their efforts on replenishing the supply of hand sanitiser for front-liner use at their facility. 

“Our technicians have been asked by Public Health England to help produce hand sanitiser for social care workers who are working with the vulnerable and elderly but are running short of supplies,” added University of Birmingham’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences Director of Operations Dr Emma Melia.

“We have gathered our supplies across the campus of Isopropyl Alcohol, Ethanol, Hydrogen Peroxide and Glycerol to make hand sanitiser in line with the World Health Organization’s guidelines and we are working rapidly to get the first batches out.”

The Collaborative Teaching Laboratory, where students and researchers will work on producing the sanitiser is a high-tech and well-equipped facility that brings together practical teaching activities across a broad range of science and engineering disciplines. 

The facility incorporates a wet lab, dry lab and e-lab and allows students to experience real-life industry practices and environments that they will likely encounter in their future careers.