#COVID19EthiopiaAfricaCoronavirusEthiopiaHealthOp/EdTopic of the Month

#COVID19: Gloves: Who should use them and when?

A group of volunteers wearing gloves and face masks were on stand by to provide water and soap for participants of a 5km women’s race against COVId-19 which was held in Addis Abeba on March 05/2020. Image: AP

Tinsae Alemayehu (MD) @tinsaetigist

Addis Abeba, April 02/2020 – Many Ethiopians are seen in public wearing gloves with the aim of preventing COVID-19 infection. This practice has been promoted by media and even government officials, further strengthening the drive for the mass to follow.

This brief article is therefore to analyze the practice of wearing gloves at all times and its relation to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The SARS CoV-2 virus, responsible for COVID-19, is mainly transmitted by droplets coming from an infected person, traveling through air and getting access to the unsuspecting contact via eyes, nose and throat.  On the contrary, our skin is known to be one of the first to be called upon to prevent entry of different bacteria, fungi and viruses. The main factor for the skin serving as a portal of transmission for COVID-19 is the universal intimacy humans have with their faces. On average, we touch our faces 20 times per hour. Hence, if accidentally, our hands touch surfaces in our environment contaminated by droplets housing the SARS CoV-2 virus, we can then transmit the infection to ourselves by touching our faces.

Just because we are wearing gloves doesn’t mean we will touch our faces less. In fact, residents of Addis Abeba and elsewhere in the country may have a false sense of security while wearing gloves which may lead them to believe that they are immune against acquiring COVID-19. That falsely placed confidence will embolden many to touch surfaces that under normal circumstances, they wouldn’t even think of touching with bare hands. People have been seen driving cars, counting money notes, and conducting other tasks, but also touching faces and even eating all while wearing gloves.

The SARS CoV-2 virus can stay for many hours on gloves. So while dirt on a bare hand is likely to be noticed and cleaned, the likelihood for that happening on a glove-covered hands is less. That makes prolonged glove wear even more dangerous than operating with bare hands.

You may ask then why doctors wear gloves

In hospitals, we use one glove to examine one patient. We then either wash our hands or do alcohol rubs. We do not wear the same glove (which gets less clean by the hour) for hours as you witness in the public. The World Health Organization advocates against the use of gloves unless you are a healthcare practitioner or are caring for a family member sick with COVID-19. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak was first reported in Ethiopia, there was a shortage of gloves for medical professionals. After it occurred, the unfounded fear among the public and the failure of the correct medical advice reaching and being communicated by media outlets have compounded the shortage for the people who deserve to have it by their side – the doctors and nurses risking their lives to take care of suspected and confirmed COVID19 patients.

So let’s ditch the gloves. Let’s not do more harm by wearing them for long hours. Let’s focus on the effective methods of transmission – social distancing, washing of hands and avoid touching our faces as much as we can and other preventative methods recommended by WHO. AS

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