Head of chemistry department assembles team to produce hand sanitisers to assist in the fight against the covid-19 pandemic in the Kingdom of Eswatini.

The chemistry labs of the University of Eswatini (UNESWA) have been bustling since the announcement of the first covid-19 case in the kingdom on March 13, 2020.

Senior lecturer and head of chemistry, Dr Thabile Ndlovu, had already made the decision to start producing hand sanitisers in the UNESWA chemistry laboratories a week before the announcement due to the scarcity of sanitisers in stores.

“There were no sanitisers in shops anymore. Something was required and we had the equipment to assist the country,” Dr Ndlovu told Wits Vuvuzela.

As an awardee of the Instrumental Access Award from Seeding Labs, a global science organisation that provides scientists with tools and resources for ground-breaking research, Dr Ndlovu was the recipient of lab equipment that was intended to support research and teaching in her department. It is this equipment that helped her start the production of the sanitisers.

In a single day, Dr Ndlovu and her team of 10 lab staff, were able to produce 100 litres of sanitiser using the World Health Organisation recipe, and have since made over 200 litres in total. The sanitiser is then packaged in containers with sizes varying from 150 to 500 ml and sold to members of the Eswatini community.

Hand sanitiser produced at UNESWA, packaged and ready for distribution. Photo: Provided 

Given the rising demand for sanitiser as the pandemic spreads, Dr Ndlovu admits that “supply is an issue”, especially because the key ingredient, ethanol, is usually imported from South Africa, which is now on lockdown.

Dr Ndlovu said, “Our production has been restricted by the lack of ethanol but we are being offered assistance from local companies who are making donations to the department.”

These companies include USA Distillers and Coca-Cola Swaziland, which have been pivotal in the continuation of the production of sanitisers, offering to donate ingredients as well as manufacturing equipment to turn the production into a large-scale operation.

“People are coming together to assist. The country is coming together,” Dr Ndlovu told Wits Vuvuzela.

She also said, while the kingdom’s ministry of health is supportive of this initiative, a solid partnership with it is yet to be finalised. That would facilitate the donation of sanitisers to the rural communites of Eswatini.

FEATURED IMAGE: Lab assistants producing hand sanitiser in the UNESWA chemistry labs. This photo was taken before the lockdown, before masks were mandatory. Photo: Provided