Bataan General Hospital and Medical Center healthcare workers trying out the donated sewn PPE suits made for them Photo courtesy of Dr. Maria Almira Kiat

One of the PPE suits designs by Erjohn dela Serna | Photo courtesy of Erjohn dela Serna

Volunteerism and sewing skills answer to PPE shortage

The Corona Virus Disease 2019 (CoViD-19) pandemic has infected 5.7 million people worldwide with the death of 360 thousand people. That created a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) used by our healthcare workers. The World Health Organization (WHO) has asked the different countries to manufacture more PPEs. There are no medical-grade fabrics or production companies in the Philippines. Healthcare workers are at high risk. There are already doctors and nurses that got infected. They use more than 3 PPEs for one CoViD-19 patient in one week.
People even raised funds to procure more PPEs yet it is not enough. What happens next is that people came together, most of them from the fashion community, help make these PPEs. They are textile and garment workers, designers, artisans, and other citizens who can help sew and deliver these PPEs. There is also the challenge to make these PPEs close to medical-grade standards.
Volunteer workers sewing PPE suits | Photo courtesy of Abbey Balagbagan
Students of ICE- FAD (Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship — Fashion and Design) make PPEs with feedback from the healthcare workers. Leilina Kate Yalung has made 300 washable face masks. Abbey Balagbagan produces 20,000 face masks and 10,000 two-piece PPE suits since March 30 (as of April 21). Erjohn dela Serna has made 982 pieces where he targets to create around 1,500. They donate them to Pasig City General Hospital, Child’s Hope Children’s Hospital, barangays (villages), towns, cities, and regions.

Fashion an armour to save lives Volunteerism and sewing skills answer to PPE shortage
Abbey volunteers

Volunteer workers sewing PPE suits | Photo courtesy of Abbey Balagbagan

The Southern Philippine Medical Center and other parts of Davao City receives 335 isolation (or hazmat) suits and 500 gowns. These are a donation from Kyra M. Mata with Wear Forward a project called “Wear Together”. They are sewn from taffeta SBL (Silver Black Lining) the same material used for umbrellas. To make them close to a medical-grade standard they cut the patterns with a fly cover that requires less sewing. They adjust the tension and make stitches shorter to make it airtight. Next, they test it through water submersion to make sure they are close to medical grade standard. With the help of Kendi Maristela, who teaches the College of Home Economics Clothing Tech Course at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. She started the PPE design approved by the Department of Health (DOH).

The Manila Protective Gear Sewing Club was organized for the sole purpose of making these PPEs suits. Donates them to the Office of the Vice President (OVP). OVP is helping healthcare workers by raising donations with volunteers and collaboration. Through the OVP that they distribute these PPEs with less the hassle. To achieve the medical-grade standard they consider every detail and construction of the design. It is reviewed and tested by a medical organization such as a hospital or an independent medical consultant. Their design is medically-approved by the doctors behind the Open Source Covid19 Medical Supplies based in Berkeley, California.

The best about this is that volunteers heartwarming feedback. Healthcare workers are overwhelmed with the help they get during this crisis. They also get excited to try these donated PPEs because of the different colors and designs. They are more comfortable compared to the ones procured from China by the DOH. The designs help their patients to recognize them and they are reusable and washable. They are cleaned with a bleach solution and dried under the sun. As much as possible they autoclave said by Dr. Maria Almira Kiat, of Bataan General Hospital and Medical Center. There are healthcare workers, from other areas, that are hesitant to autoclave them even if they were heat tested. They categorize these PPEs into two types. Type A is for inside wards these are full gear use to attend positive and suspected CoViD-19 patients.
Despite the quarantine restriction people can still find ways to help in this time of crisis. From ordinary people to textile workers and designers that care for our healthcare workers who are our present heroes.

“Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.”- Bill Cunningham.

Doc Winston Pascual Mental Hospital

George Buid

A freelance photojournalist since 2015. He contributes to local news publications and to ZUMA Press. Chronicles everyday life and events.