Efforts in KU’s laboratory to tackle Kashmir’s sanitizer shortfall

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Srinagar: The panic-buying triggered on an account of the spread of COVID-19 infection has predictably caused a shortage of essentials in the market and the exuberant price of fewer hand sanitizers is no exception.

And the situation is no different in Kashmir; however, there is a silver lining in the darkening cloud of the pandemic. A Professor of Chemistry at University of Kashmir (KU), Dr. Altaf Pandit is at the helm of an initiative to help ease the situation by synthesizing hand sanitizers in the University’s laboratory.

In mid-March, after detecting first COVID-19 patient, Kashmir went in partial lockdown. All educational institutions were closed and public movement was restricted. A week later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown.

Residing in the University campus allows Dr. Pandit access to the laboratory. His initiative, he says, took off a week ago in the wake of the essential commodity falling short of supply during the lockdown. After due discussion, his “colleagues agreed but the problem was that people were not around”, he said.  

In order to actualize the intention, he collaborated with his colleagues who are beyond physical reach at this point and managed to acquire Isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and glycerol of analytical grade purity — the primary ingredients to produce hand sanitizers.

In the University’s laboratory, Dr. Pandit with the assistance of Arshid Bashir, a Ph.D. scholar under him who was available just one day, made the first batch of sanitizers. “Initially we produced about thirty liters,” he told The Kashmir Walla. “Now we will be procuring 200 liters.”

Out of the total production, some were distributed among their security staff and others within the campus. A part of the stock is reserved to be sent to the quarantine centre in their Zakura campus, Srinagar.

“We have employed the World Health Organization (WHO) protocol, which is specifically recommended for making sanitizers, to contain COVID-19 pandemic and to break the chain of the novel coronavirus,” Dr. Pandit explains, adding that “it uses minimum required ingredients so that shortage in the supply of ingredients is taken care of.”

At present, alcohol-based hand-rubs are an effective means to rapidly and effectively inactivate a wide range of potentially harmful microorganisms on the hands.

In the course of deliberation with the higher authorities of the University, it was intended that 5,000 to 10,000 bottles of sanitizers will be produced and made available. It has been further decided that a significant part of the sanitizer thus produced will be stored for the purpose of distribution among the students and staff of the KU free of cost when the lockdown will be eased and classes will resume.

But the professor isn’t going ahead on his pursuit without any hurdles. Due to short supply of basic components in meeting the desired scale of production, the targeted scale is now pegged at 1,000 bottles, says Dr. Pandit. “The local suppliers have the necessary ingredients, but due to lack of transport and restrictions [on public movement], they are not able to hand it over,” he adds.

Another issue is the lack of availability of suitable dispenser bottles for packing the product as they are currently out of stock and the suppliers beyond the region cannot be accessed. And bringing empty bottles from hospitals is also refrained from, because of the fear of any possible contamination.

The current plan of producing 1,000 bottles would “require nearly 2,00,000 rupees—which the University will pay—and our Hon’ble VC (Vice-Chancellor) has approved our proposal in this regard.”

Considering the timeline for achieving the target, Dr. Pandit shares that “this will not take us much time provided we get all the ingredients. We are hopeful to find some way out for overcoming this difficulty.”

Similar to the undertaking of Dr. Pandit, several other universities across the country have come up with similar initiatives and have developed hand sanitizers in keeping with the WHO guidelines.

While public places to accommodate large numbers of people such as universities have been closed off in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, university laboratories potentially hold a means to mitigate the situation to some extent.

Kavya Dubey is a Reporting Fellow at The Kashmir Walla

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