With hand sanitiser in desperately short supply across Australia, Illawarra scientists have used their laboratory, chemicals and knowledge to make the liquid gold for the Wollongong community.
The Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute has used its resources to make World Health Organisation hand sanitiser and is supplying it to the Cancer Council's Wollongong branch.
The branch will distribute the sanitiser to its drivers and local cancer patients who are still being transported to and from treatment.
IHMRI chief operating officer Kara Lamond said the organisation wanted to find a way to support the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have the expertise, the chemists and chemicals available, and making the sanitiser was our way to help the community," she said.
"A number of groups contacted us to see whether we could make the hand sanitiser.
"The staff at the institute spent time researching the formula.
"The process is very complex and the scientists had to make sure they followed the WHO guidelines correctly, which stipulate how much of each component is needed.
"The formula is tested, then it has to rest and then it is retested to ensure the alcohol level is right."
Ms Lamod said whilst hand sanitisers found in supermarkets were effective against killing germs, they did not have a high enough alcohol concentration kill the COVID-19 virus.
Some gel-type hand sanitisers may contain other ingredients, such as thickeners, which might reduce the alcohol concentration below the recommended 80-85% levels.
We have the expertise, the chemists and chemicals available, and making the sanitiser was our way to help the community.IHMRI's Kara Lamond
IHMRI technical officer Dr Reece Gately, who has a PhD in Chemistry, said checking the alcohol concentration was paramount.
"Whilst over 60% alcohol content is effective against bacteria, the higher concentrations have a better chance of fighting a broader spectrum of nasty microorganisms," he said.
Ms Lamond said the institute was proud to be able to provide the Cancer Council with the valuable liquid because patients had a high risk of contracting COVID-19.
Grant Plecas, community lead for Cancer Council Southern NSW, said IHMRI's donation of hand sanitisers would allow the Transport to Treatment program's vital work to continue.
"The health and wellbeing of our volunteers, staff and patients is paramount and we want to protect all involved as we continue to operate this critical service to the community," he said.
"Cancer Council NSW has replaced key volunteer drivers in the program with staff and others who are not in the 'at risk' category, as volunteers' health is at the front of mind."
Ms Lamond said the production of hand sanitiser could be upscaled to a couple hundred litres, however, that was unlikely to be needed as long as Australia got the delivery of sanitiser that expected shortly.
She said IHMRI was in discussions with other community organisation to supply hand sanitiser in the interim.
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