21 Apr 2022

Fit for purpose

Covid-19 restrictions are now being eased in many countries but the importance of making sure healthcare workers have the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) still remains. Throughout the pandemic, stories have emerged of shortages of the vital equipment and of badly fitting masks and respirators – particularly for women.

Many items are designed using data about men’s bodies as a reference point, leading to issues with the fit for female users. Women in Global Health has examined the problems reported by women around the world and are researching the challenges of gender and PPE. As well as concerns over the fit of the equipment, female workers reported that it didn’t meet their needs during pregnancy, menstruation and menopause.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the organisation’s executive director Roopa Dhatt and her colleagues said: “Like many products, PPE is designed on a reference man. As a result, the average sizes of PPE are too big for most women. Masks are too big, leaving gaps in the sides, increasing stress and infection risk for women health workers.

“In the Women in Global Health survey, only 14% of women wore PPE fitted exclusively to them. Gowns and other body coverings are not modelled for women’s physique and although PPE may be manufactured in a range of sizes, large will often be the only size procured on the assumption that it will fit.”

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