Making the suits which protect doctors and nurses on the Ebola front line

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The bright yellow and orange hazard suits worn by health workers in West Africa have flashed on television screens around the world, graphic symbols of the dangers faced by men and women fighting the Ebola epidemic.
The protection is crucial, the suits are all that stand between them and the killer virus.

In Shandong Province, China, more than eight thousand miles from the Ebola front line, factory manager, Wang Ximin tries on a suit – one of thousands which will soon be transported to West Africa.
The Weifang Lakeland Safety Products factory is one of the biggest producers of the hazard protection suits which for unfortunate reasons have become so familiar.
The production of these suits has to be precise and reliable.
A hole or a weakness in the fabric could have fatal consequences for the health worker it is supposed to protect, so each garment is made carefully.
As well as being completely sealed and safe, the suits must be flexible. Factory general manager, Wang Ximin wants to demonstrate how it’s possible to move and crouch easily.
He says: “The double zipper design allows you to open the suit from the bottom when you need to take something from inside the suit. We put a glue strip along the front flap in order to better seal off the front line to make sure contamination is not able to penetrate. You can split legs and squat down easily in the suit. It feels very comfortable to wear.”
The factory makes the suits for the American company, Lakeland Industries which designed the specifications of the hazardous materials suit.
It’s made with layers including polyethylene barrier film and non-woven, continuous filament polypropylene.
The fabric is just 0.26mm-thick and it been made resistant against chemical spills, body fluids and poisonous gases.
The staff at this factory in the city of Anqiu, in western China is working around the clock to make these Chemmax 1 series suits.
As well as being shipped out to countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, which are at the centre of epidemic, these suits are also sent to hospitals in the United States and Europe.
According to Wang the workforce has been doubled to meet demand as has new equipment needed to make the suits.
The raw material is cut into pieces according to a design from Lakeland in the U.S.
Each seam is carefully watched as it’s stitched, then staff heat seal the seams with sticky strips using a machine.
This is to ensure the suits don’t break, or crack when used to do intensely physical work.
More than 100 workers are producing about 6,000 Ebola protective suits each day.
According to Wang that’s a 30 to 40 per cent increase from the same period last year.
Wang says: “We are very proud that the protective suits we manufacture can be used by those who are fighting against Ebola.”
Lakeland Industries has revealed that it’s received orders for one million protective suits as a direct result of the Ebola epidemic and it intends to double its manufacturing capacity.
Monthly production capacity for sealed seam ChemMAX and MicroMAX protective suit lines has increased by nearly 50% from August 2014.
The epidemic continues to claim lives.
The World Health Organisation says nearly 5,000 have died from the Ebola virus, another 13,676 confirmed, probable or suspected cases have been reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone which are at the heart of the epidemic.

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