An MIT student worked with a predictive modelling team at Oxford to put the trajectory for Pakistan in perspective.
An MIT student worked with a predictive modelling team at Oxford to put the trajectory for Pakistan in perspective.

The world as we know it, has ceased to exist. Over 280,000 people have lost their lives due to the novel coronavirus. And right now, the lives of 220 million Pakistanis are at stake.

The current pandemic has posed a confusing dilemma for all of us. Not only are we responsible for taking care of our own lives but of those around us as well. Given that Covid-19 may be asymptomatic for some while being deadly for others, it is upon each individual to make sure that they are not responsible for transmitting this dangerous virus to another individual.

At the forefront have been doctors in constant turmoil over the lack of protective equipment being provided to them. In a country with an underdeveloped healthcare system and high population density where a virus as such can and is spreading rapidly, prevention is the best tool in our arsenal.

N95 masks started creating buzz soon after the first cases emerged. Studies have shown that an effective way to reduce transmission probability per contact is through wearing masks in public (with cloth masks being an effective form of source control).

While there was a time you could find these masks readily available on sites like Daraz for cheap rates, prices have now skyrocketed; stockpiling led to an acute shortage.

Keeping this new reality in mind, a group of students have made it their mission to make mass mask production the new normal for Pakistan.

What is Mask Banao?

Mask Banao is a social initiative that has made it its mission to educate people all over Pakistan to create masks at home.

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The idea came into being when Sualeh Asif, an MIT student worked with a predictive modelling team at Oxford to put the pandemic trajectory for Pakistan in perspective. The results unsettled him as he saw how Pakistan’s fragile medical ecosystem was not ready for the pandemic to reach its peak.

What started as a small idea has spawned into a global network with a team of over 35 students and professionals from eight countries. The unit has made it their aim to convince every neighbourhood and household in Pakistan to create a mask from the comfort of their own home.

You can easily make an effective cloth mask from household materials and play your part in flattening the curve.

“While working with an international team at Oxford, it became pretty clear to me that masks were the cheapest and yet the most important intervention. The project was an idea at 5 am one night, a small plan an hour later. In 12 hours, I found an advisor and in 24, we had a core team. We got developers and writers less than a day later," Asif tells me.

"I asked my friends and in a week, we were 20 people. Pakistan is our home country and we all have the responsibility of playing our part. In this time of uncertainty, we don't need magic to save us but we need to step up and help each other by contributing homemade masks to the people who need them: your driver, your house worker, your neighbour. The only way we will get through this is if we make masks part of our culture and fashion."

Now that Pakistan is trying to get back on track by easing down lockdown measures, it is more important than ever for the public to be educated about wearing masks.

From the USA to Croatia, Doha, and Karachi, students from all over the world and from some of the best universities in the world are spearheading this effort.

"Knowing my father had to run a textile factory that employs over 10,000 just made going to sleep a lot tougher than I could've ever imagined. While I am stuck thousands of miles away from home, I can at least cope with the anxiety, knowing we can help change things for the better in our own small way," adds campaign director, Adan Ali.

"Our campaign on social media focuses on informing the relative scale of the problem, debunking myths related to Covid-19, providing feasible solutions to tackle this pandemic, and engaging with the audience/influencers to make making a mask 'cool'."

How useful are cloth masks really?

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One common misconception about face masks is that they are supposed to protect the wearer of the mask. If we focus on this functionality of the mask, then yes, cloth masks won’t do a very good job. But as people are going out and mingling again, the focus needs to be on protecting everyone else from the infected.

Also read: Could homemade masks help stop infected people spreading virus?

Cloth masks worn by infected people make sure that the people around them are protected by their germs. Thousands of people could be walking around right now, without any symptoms, infecting others around them. The only way to make sure that the disease stops with just the person carrying it is to make sure that they wear a mask at all times.

Since those infected cannot be distinguished from those who are not infected, without appropriate tests, the best way would be to make sure that everyone wears a mask.

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Think of it this way. The sooner everyone adapts to this new reality where a mask is all that stands between them and the world they used to know, the sooner can everyone go back to doing things they enjoyed, with restraint of course.

Project Reach

The team is currently holding a series of meetings with the Sindh government for collaboration. They are also trying to get the textile industry on board by suggesting the idea of repurposing fabric factories so they can produce cloth masks instead.

Their initiative is also being supported by numerous influencers and celebrities who are requesting the general public to start wearing masks so the country can come together and get used to a new normal, at least for a little while.

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"In isolation far from home, Mask Banao offered a way to help. No matter how big or small, no matter how direct or indirect the impact on my community, every person we might protect feels like a shared, but deeply personal, happiness,” concludes Rujul Gandhi, who's head of development at Mask Banao.

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