I am the mask – Adventure in Timegara, Pakistan

Part two of our series taking a very different perspective: the world of a respirator mask

An MSF driver

You can read the first part of this series here.

Hi again my dear humans. As promised, I am writing to you again; but this time, I will be writing to you about my adventure in Pakistan and the city of Timergara.

But before I get into details, let’s give you a flashback of where I come from and why I was in Timergara.

I am a mask

Let me start by introducing myself: I am a mask. I am a respirator mask (otherwise known as "FFP2" or "N95" masks, depending on which part of the world you are in).

I am actually quite popular (I even have a Wikipedia page!) and I help a lot of people in different industries (healthcare, construction, etc…).

I am quite strong, filtering out 94% of airborne particles, and allowing a maximum 8% leakage to the inside, which makes me ideal, in conjunction with additional protective measures, to prevent transmission of COVID-19.


A box of masks

Joining MSF

Here in Pakistan I was purchased from a local market in Rawalpindi, a bustling city next to the capital of Pakistan. MSF team members spotted me in a shop there. Staff from the medical, logistical and supply departments asked many questions about my origin and qualifications. Most importantly, they tested me.

Normally MSF imports its medical and surgical supplies. They work in 70 countries worldwide and like to use the same standardized products in all of them, so they can guarantee the quality.

However, due to shortages and supply chain constraints caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, MSF had to look for masks like me locally in Pakistan.

After a lot of deliberations, quality checks, discussions with the MSF technical advisors in Brussels, as well as intense negotiations with the supplier, my colleagues and I were finally selected. We made our first journey: from the shops of Rawalpindi to the MSF warehouses in Islamabad.

Getting to the hospital

But we didn’t stay long in Islamabad. The team in the warehouse had received an order from an MSF project in a different part of the country. I was picked from the shelves, packed in a box, and my transport documents were prepared to ensure that I reached the project safely.

As I write, I am being loaded into a car that will transport me from the capital Islamabad to Timergara, in the northern part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, within the next 24 hours. It is not a very long way (around 250 km) and I will not be travelling alone.

I am in the excellent company of my mask colleagues, as well as medication and biomedical equipment that will be used at the District Headquarters (DHQ) hospital that MSF supports in this locality. We are a lot in here but MSF seems to have thought about the ventilation and temperature control to ensure the best of transportation conditions for us.


Masks packaged up in transit

While we travel through the awe-inspiring landscape of Kyber Pakhtunkhwa, there is a general sense of anticipation among my colleagues and I. This sense only gets more intense as we pull up at the project’s central pharamcy and are offloaded, counted again, checked and shelved, waiting for our assignment. The room is big and a bit chilly but it seems that some of the other supplies – mostly the medication – require temperature-conditioned storage.

Our team

In Timergara, MSF primarily uses three types of mask. One is a simple cloth mask worn by non-medical people outside of the medical facilities. These include drivers, watchmen, logisticians, office staff etc.

Then there is a medical mask (let’s call it a “surgical” mask) worn by medical staff working inside the medical facilities, such as doctors, nurses, paramedics, cleaners, etc.

And finally there is me, the “FFP2” or “N95” type worn by those who are in close contact with COVID-19 patients.

How we work

The cloth masks and the surgical masks are primarily intended to stop the wearer from transmitting COVID-19 to others. This is important, as people can have COVID-19 without showing any symptoms, so without a mask, people can be going about their business, spreading the virus without even knowing it.

But this also means that if everyone wears one when they are in close proximity to other people, everyone is protected.


In the MSF warehouse

That’s enough for today: I am ready to go on duty tomorrow.

Read the next part of my adventure here >