Photo: Konstantin Kriechbaum
Ehsan Hadi, Tamara Church and Konstantin Kriechbaum in the lab. Photo: Konstantin Kriechbaum

The Swedish health care system is currently experiencing a shortage of disposable articles and alerts have been issued regarding this problem which has arisen as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. The need for protective equipment, such as face masks and disposable gloves, as well as hand sanitisers is considerable. Lennart Bergström, professor at the Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry, wanted Stockholm University to act on this.

“When the lack of material in the medical field became apparent a few days ago, I asked myself how the University, and especially we as chemists, could contribute”, said Lennart Bergström.

Request for materials to be donated

Professor Bergström contacted Berit Olofsson, a professor of organic chemistry and section dean, and asked what could be done. She then contacted the Danderyd Hospital in Stockholm to find out what urgent needs they had. The hospital reported shortages of hand sanitiser and certain other protective equipment. On Tuesday, Berit Olofsson sent out a request to the natural science departments at the University to find out what disposable equipment they had, which could immediately be sent to the medical service. Examples of such equipment were pump bottles, safety masks, goggles, transparent aprons and protective gloves.

In the e-mail from the dean to the departments, there was a request regarding how much could be spared of the alcohols ethanol and isopropanol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerol, as well as medical containers and bottles. When Prof. Olofsson received a reply from the hospital, stating that hand sanitiser would be especially useful if the University were to manufacture it, the collection of the above ingredients for alcohol production started. An e-mail went out to the different chemistry departments giving the instruction to start production of hand sanitiser, together with a request concerning which employees were available to carry out the work. Positive responses came in rapidly, as well as information on how much chemicals were available.

“The response from colleagues and departments has been fantastic: in just a few hours, more than 250 litres had been collected and more is coming in every day”, said Lennart Bergström.  

First delivery to Danderyd Hospital

In the afternoon, the production of hand sanitisers began in a laboratory at the Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry and at a research group at the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at SciLifeLab. At the same time, the collection of disposable articles and bottles of hand sanitiser was under the direction of research engineer Hanna Gustavsson. Last night, Danderyd Hospital was able to collect, among other things, three large boxes with hand sanitisers in pump bottles, 200 gloves, 40-50 face masks, 200 face masks and 30 litres of hand-made hand sanitiser.

“One reason that the collection of materials was so efficient was the involvement of the University's local lab safety network. These are people who usually work with lab safety at the departments. They let everything they had in their hands go and began to share the information, collect disposable items and make an inventory of the chemical raw materials supply. The whole group deserves high praise”, says Hanna Gustavsson.  

Continued production of hand sanitiser

At Stockholm University, the production of hand sanitiser continues. The Swedish Museum of Natural History has also said that they can spare 1,900 litres of ethanol, which could mean that an additional 2,000 litres of hand sanitiser can be produced. Several departments at the University have also ingredients for hand sanitiser which they can donate. The University has also made other efforts. The University's internal supplier, SU Butiken, has donated most of its ethanol stock to the production of hand sanitiser and has also sent disposable gloves to the Danderyd Hospital. Cleaning staff at the University have been instructed to collect bottles of hand sanitiser placed around the University so that they can be sent to the health care service – as most buildings at the University are now locked for students, not all hand sanitisers will be used.

Production for Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge

The hand sanitiser now being produced will go to Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge. According to Berit Olofsson, the need is great and she sees that the University has an important role to play here. If the production of hand sanitiser needs to take longer, it may be possible for chemists from the University to produce the hand sanitiser at the hospital.

“It is fantastic that the inventory was done so quickly so that we could start the production so rapidly. This is teamwork where many people do a fantastic job”, says Berit Olofsson.

Noted by media and government

During the day, the initiative received attention in both traditional media, such as the newspapers Expressen and Dagens Nyheter, as well as in social media. Matilda Ernkrans, the Swedish Minister of Higher Education and Research, has tweeted about it, describing it as, “an important initiative,” and urging other universities to follow Stockholm University’s example.