Fighting Ebola: Hand sanitizers and wipes on high demand


IN the wake of the Ebola scare that is looming large in parts of our West African sub-region  and the high incidence of cholera  in Ghana, there is a high demand for hand sanitizers.

In addition to hand sanitizers, wipes are also a preferred choice for the Ghanaian who is unable to wash hands with soap and water.

The English online dictionary Wikipedia defines a sanitizer as a supplement or an alternative to hand washing with soap and water. Also known as hand antiseptic, sanitizers are antiseptic products used to avoid the transmission of pathogens and they come  in gel, foam, and liquid solutions. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are more effective at killing microorganisms than soaps and do not dry out hands as much. Alcohol rub sanitizers are known to mostly kill about 99.999 per cent of bacteria, fungi and some viruses 30 seconds or a minute after application on the hands.

With Ghana registering over 300 cholera cases daily, many parents, philanthropists and humanitarians have resorted to the purchase of  hand sanitizers to  protect themselves from the disease and  deadly pestilence.

A quick survey

A quick survey at some of the shopping malls in Accra reveals a shortage in hand sanitizers and hand wipes. The survey also indicates that the prices of both the hand sanitizers and wipes keep rising by the day. At the Oxford Street shopping mall located at Osu, one of the shop attendants told this writer that they had run out of stock since Monday. She added that hand wipes also did run out of stock but they got more supplies during the week. ‘The price of hand sanitizers used to be GH¢3.00 for the Carex brand and GH¢4.00 for either the  Purell or  the Kleenex brand. Now Carex is going for GH¢6.00 and Purell for GH¢7.00.’

At the Madina branch of Melcom, hand sanitizers had run out of stock at the time this reporter visited. Ophelia, a shop attendant, tells The General Telegraph Business Desk that many people used to come in and buy them in bulk, perhaps to resell at higher prices. Ophelia adds that since the outbreak of cholera in Ghana and the Ebola scare, many brands of imported sanitizers have shown up on the market. “Brands like Pharmadem, Sivoderm, Sanigel, Samocid and Dettol are on the market,” Ophelia added.

She disclosed to this reporter that when they had hand sanitizers in stock they could sell at most 20 of them and about 10 of hand wipes. “The least we ever sold in a day was ten hand sanitizers and three wipes,” Ophelia said.

The A&C shopping mall at East Legon sold their last stock over the weekend, but it is still a hot commodity that many consumers ask for. A petty trader at the Madina market says she has made a lot of money out of the sale of hand sanitizers over this short period. For her, it is the new lucrative business in town and she, like other market women, is cashing in. “The Pharmadem and Sivoderm brands of hand sanitizers used to go for GH¢2.00, but now they are selling at GH¢5.00. I buy them for GH¢3.50 or GH¢4.00 and sell them for GH¢5.00.”

For health reasons many now carry sanitizers with them every day. What makes it fascinating is that many celebrities and others have come up with campaigns to stop the spread of cholera, and of Ebola should Ghana ever report a case. Their campaign centres on giving one child a hand sanitizer and teaching children how to use them, thereby preventing cholera. Such high patronage may account for the shortage of the commodity.

In one busy wholesale and retail shop at Madina, I overheard a shop attendant telling her other colleagues not to release the remaining pack of Carex hand sanitizers on the shelf, as that was their last stock. I could infer from this that they intended hoarding the product and later sell it at an exorbitant price, which is nothing new to Ghanaian traders. It saddened my heart to hear what she said.

What the doctors are saying

As Ghanaians continue to behave as though hand sanitizers were a cure for cholera or Ebola, I read a story in the dailies captioned “Not all hand sanitizers can kill viruses.” In the story, the Research Fellow at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, Dr Kofi Bonney, cautioned the public to carefully choose the types of hand sanitizers they buy from the market.

According to the doctor, some hand sanitizers are manufactured to kill bacteria, some to kill germs or viruses, fungi etc. It is highly probable, therefore, that some of the sanitizers on the market are not effective in the fight against viruses.

In my bid to find out more, I interviewed Dr Vincent Ganu, a general medical practitioner with the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, on whether sanitizers can protect one from Ebola infection.

“Using sanitizers cannot prevent you from contracting Ebola, but then it reduces the risk. There are many types of hand sanitizers, so we should be careful what we buy,” Dr Ganu reiterated.

Dr Vincent Ganu who doubles as the president of the Korle Bu Junior Doctors Association, revealed    that “there are a lot [of sanitizers] on the market, but no matter the type of sanitizer you use, it cannot prevent contracting the [Ebola] disease, should it be recorded in Ghana.”

On what a buyer should look out for in a hand sanitizer, Dr Ganu advised that one should look out for hand sanitizers with alcohol content of about 70 per cent or more.

For the education of all, the active ingredients in hand sanitizers are isopropanol, ethanol, n-propanol or povidone-iodine. All those actively patronizing hand sanitizers are well advised to check the alcohol percentage before buying them.

By Eyra Doe

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