“I have been so consistent with the wearing of face masks that I recently noticed some discolouring on my face but I do not have any option than to wear them for my own safety”- that is the dilemma of Emmanuel Nelson.
The 32-year-old media practitioner spends about 15 hours of each day outside his home, either at work or running personal errands. This means he spends 450 out of the 720 hours in a month wearing face masks.
The mask has left its footprint on his face. While his nose and mouth areas, usually covered by the mask, have become lighter in complexion, the rest of his face has a darker shade.
At a glance one would assume that the ‘map of the masks’ on his face is bleaching gone wrong. For him, the loss of his even coloured face,is the price he may have to pay in exchange for his safety from the dreaded COVID-19.
As the country nears one year of mandatory wearing of masks, Nelson’s experience provokes some critical thoughts; Has the essential safety kits triggered some side effects? How does one handle such effects since the masks are mandatory?
COVID-19 in Ghana
COVID-19 was first detected in the country on March 12, 2020 after two cases, involving returning residents from Norway and Turkey, were recorded.
This was followed by the banning of public gatherings including conferences, workshops, funerals, festivals, political rallies, church activities and other related events to reduce the spread of the virus.
All of the country's borders were later closed for two weeks from midnight of Sunday, March 22, 2020 while on March 30, a partial lock down was imposed on Greater Accra and Kumasi.
On April 19, 2020 President Akufo-Addo in a televised address to the nation, issued a directive for the mandatory face masks wearing effective April 22, 2020 with sanctions.
There are three types of facemask; fabric face mask, surgical mask and N95 respirator. They come in different designs, sold at dissimilar prices and offer diverse levels of protection and comfort, but they all cover the mouth and nose and have elastic ropes worn over the ears to keep the masks in place.
Due to the critical role they play, the Ghana Standards Authority and the Food and Drugs Authority have set standards and guidelines for making the fabric ones which are reusable.
Initially sold at exorbitant prices ranging from GH₵100 and Gh₵250 per pack of GH₵50 pieces and in some cases, Gh₵5 per piece, the surgical masks now cost less than GH₵20 per pack and GH₵1 per 3pieces. It is the most popular type of mask being worn.
Some adverse reactions
Nelson is not the only one who has been having reactions. In fact, many people prefer the use of surgical marks because of the difficulty in breathing.
Eunice Aubin, a trader said she could not breathe when she wears the fabric face masks but had no better option due to the high cost of the surgical masks so has to constantly take it off for a while in order to breathe some fresh air.
Daniel Awuah is a forensic scientist with the Ghana Standards Authority and as such his job requires him to wear the surgical mask during working hours at the lab even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
He used to wear the masks for four hours with intermittent breaks for some fresh air but the pandemic presented a challenge when it came to getting these breaks which became a luxury.
“Initially, when I was wearing face masks at the lab only, everything was normal. Now, I am compelled to wear the face mask about ten hours of each day for five days each week without taking it off except when I have to take a snack or drink water”, he said.
But after eight months of wearing face masks, he started having difficulty in breathing whenever the face mask was removed for such activities or while in the comfort of his home.
He had a sore throat and assumed he might have contracted the COVID-19 but was convinced when his friends at the workplace also experienced same but tested negative to the virus.
He said, “at a point I thought I had become habituated to the face masks and I was not wrong because whenever I took a break for a week, I became better.”
For Esther Nyamekye, a businesswoman, the prolonged wearing is putting pressure on her ears.
“I wear glasses so both the Temples of the glasses and the strings of the masks, weigh my ears every day. Sometimes I am compelled to remove one of them for some relief”, she said.
According to a dermatologist, Dr. Mckeown Seade of the Korle Bu teaching Hospital, the probability of having a skin irritation is dependent on the fabric used in making the face masks.
It is therefore important that people wear the prescribed face masks recommended by the Food and Drugs Authority.
“People can also apply moisturiser to their faces before wearing the face masks to help reduce the impact of the irritations,” Dr Seade added.
A scientist at the West African Center for Cell Biology Pathogen, (WACCBIP) Dr. Yaw Bediako said some may have skin irritations after prolonged wearing but there is really no other choice because face masks are an important part of the fight against COVID-19.
“Anytime people stop wearing face masks, there is a rise in COVID-19 cases so we really do not have any option”, he said,
He explained that researchers and doctors had not received any formal complaints about people having severe reactions from the prolonged wearing of face masks.
As to when the face masks will end, nobody knows, but there is a certainty that scientists are doing everything possible in their power to see an end to it, and possibly with the vaccine interventions, all these could come to an end.