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Are masks effective against Covid-19?

Do face masks offer effective protection against the novel coronavirus? We examined various scientific reports and integrated the findings into this article.

The global spread of Covid-19 has led to the mandatory wearing of face masks in public and it is assumed that wearing masks reduces the likelihood of spreading the disease by an infected person. Subsequently, this mandate has increased the demand for face masks worldwide while stimulating research about their efficacy.

Existing evidence indicates that face masks are effective in reducing the risk of contracting airborne infections such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). A systematic review of use of face masks in influenza epidemics, which included standard surgical masks and respirator masks, found some efficacy of masks, if worn by those with respiratory symptoms but not if worn by asymptomatic individuals.

“There is some evidence to support the wearing of masks or respirators during illness to protect others, and public health emphasis on mask wearing during illness may help to reduce in influenza virus transmission,” partly reads the review study found on PubMed, an online database of biomedical literature.

However, the study quickly adds that there is no sufficient data to generate high-quality evidence to support the use of masks or respirators for preventing the spread of respiratory infections. Most recently, a systematic review titled: ‘Face masks and similar barriers to prevent respiratory illness such as Covid-19’ published on April 6, 2020 examined whether wearing a face mask or other barrier (shield) prevents transmission of respiratory illness such as coronavirus, tuberculosis, or influenza. The authors found that mask wearing seemed to produce small reductions in infection rates.

They concluded that: “The evidence is not sufficiently strong to support the widespread use of face masks as a protective measure against Covid-19” and recommended further high quality randomized controlled trials. Positions on widespread face mask use have changed over time.

For example, at the start of the pandemic, an interim guidance published by the World Health Organization (WHO) on its website recommended masks only for those with symptoms suggestive of Covid-19 and for healthcare workers.

The initially limited evidence on asymptomatic transmission and concern about mask shortages for the health care workers contributed to that decision. Later, on April 3, 2020, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance advising everyone to wear cloth face covers in public areas where close contact with others is unavoidable.

In fact, Dr Robert Red eld, the CDC director, issued a statement emphasizing that wearing face masks is ‘the most powerful public health tool’ against the coronavirus and might even provide better protection against Covid-19 than a vaccine.


A study titled: ‘Efficacy of face-masks used in Uganda: a laboratory-based inquiry during the Covid-19 pandemic’ published in the BMJ Open Access Medical Journal compared various materials and forms of face masks for filtration efficiency (measurement of a respirator material’s resistance to viral penetration), breathability, microbial cleanliness and re-usability of different face masks procured from face-mask vendors in Kampala, Uganda.

This study also answered questions like whether or not there was an adequate alternative to imported commercially manufactured face masks; for example, the KN95 and surgical face-masks, through testing and comparing Although the study demonstrated that surgical face masks had better filtration efficiency breathability than any other type of masks that had been tested, wearing of cloth face masks was several-fold more effective than not wearing a face-mask at all.

Additionally, locally-made double-layered face-masks had better: filtration efficiency, and breathability compared to other locally-made cloth face- masks, and re-usability compared to all the single-layered face masks.

“The findings imply that locally made, double-layered cloth face-masks when availed and used could improve the uptake of face-masks by the public in Uganda and similar low-and middle- income countries in Africa, as a key intervention in preventing the transmission of Covid-19,” the study partly reads.

Hence, the study demonstrates that use of face masks in public settings could be the single most important- low hanging opportunity for limiting the acquisition and spread of Covid-19 in Uganda. By December 2, Uganda had registered over 21, 035 cases of Covid-19, with 9,044 recoveries and 205 deaths.


Information on the John Hopkins website cautions readers to avoid wearing their masks under the chin with one’s nose and mouth exposed; not to remove the mask while around others in public; not to share masks with friends and family members and not to touch another person’s mask while it is being worn.

Dr Daniel Akol Ross, the proprietor RS Rapha Springs Medicals located in Gayaza and Nansana, says although wearing of face masks has picked up in Uganda, the challenge of people wearing dirty, unwashed masks is still prevalent.

“I have seen people in Kampala wearing masks for three weeks or months without washing or changing them. This is very dangerous; if people in Kampala city wear dirty masks, what of those in villages like Karamoja, do they even wear masks?” he asked.

He advises people to change and wash their masks daily, disinfect them by ironing and dispose non-reusable masks. Proper handling and wearing of a face masks protects you and those around you from contracting Covid-19.


This article was made possible with support from the THRiVE Consortium & Africa Centre for Systematic Reviews & Knowledge Translation through CoVPRES project funded by MakRIF.


0 #1 WADADA rogers 2020-12-10 17:16
Masks are not effective at all
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