International webinar explores the critical role PVC plays in healthcare

The Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA) – the industry association representing the local PVC industry, recently highlighted the critical role Polyvinyl Chloride (commonly known as PVC or vinyl) plays in hospitals and the healthcare environments at an international webinar, attracting delegates from as far afield as Thailand, Argentina, India, the UK, Italy and Denmark.

“PVC is the third most widely-produced polymer globally and the most frequently used thermoplastic in the medical device industry. It can easily and effectively be cleaned and sterilised (at temperatures ranging from -40° C to 121° C), and be extruded to make IV tubing, thermoformed to make blister packaging or blow moulded to make hollow rigid containers. Moreover, PVC can easily be welded to itself or with other plastics by heated tool welding and vibration welding. For this reason, PVC is used as wall and floor coverings, mattress covers, oxygen marks, catheters and tubing, surgical gloves and gowns and blood-, IV- and dialysis bags,” says Monique Holtzhausen, CEO of SAVA.

PVC in healthcare
PVC is the third most widely-produced polymer globally and the most frequently used thermoplastic in the medical device industry. It can easily and effectively be cleaned and sterilised and be extruded to make IV tubing, thermoformed to make blister packaging or blow moulded to make hollow rigid containers.

Affordable, quality healthcare

Ole Grøndahl Hansen, project manager at the PVCMed Alliance (Denmark), explained that since the 1960’s, PVC has played a huge role in allowing the broader population access to affordable, quality healthcare.  “Thanks to its versatility and cost efficiency, PVC enables the mass-production of medical devices and reduces cross-contamination between patients. It has been extensively tested and researched for patient safety, and has a track record of billions of safe patient days,” he says. “PVC can be relied upon for its strength and durability under changing temperatures and conditions,  can be formulated with excellent transparency to allow for continual monitoring of fluid flow and can be created in virtually any colour if colour-coded applications are required”.

Debbie Munford, marketing manager at Isegen SA, unpacked the role and future of plasticisers in medical applications such as IV bags, tubing used for haemodialysis, nasogastric feeding, respiratory and heart bypass machines, umbilical artery catheters and enteral nutrition feeding bags.

“Phthalate Plasticisers (DEHP) is a well-defined and tested plasticizer that facilitates the separation and storage of blood components. It increases blood safety and the efficiency of blood banking thanks to improved morphology, deformability and osmotic fragility. The increased durability and flexibility of PVC blood bags prevent container breakage and bacterial contamination, allowing blood to be stored for up to 49 days with an increased chance of survival and cell recovery,” Debbie reported.

High degree of compatibility is essential

It is important that materials used in medical applications should be capable of accepting or conveying a variety of liquids without themselves undergoing any significant changes in composition or properties. Whenever plastics are in direct contact with a patient’s tissue or blood, a high degree of compatibility is essential. PVC offers exceptional chemical stability and high biocompatibility that can even be further increased through appropriate surface modification. Currently, medical devices are exempt from the requirement to substitute DEHP for another substance, although the European Union’s REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) has mandated that all medical devices containing DEHP must undergo an authorization process prior to them being placed on the market in Europe. The latest date for authorization is set for mid-2022, with the sunset date for using DEHP expected to be towards the end of 2023.

“The scientific community is currently investigating the use of alternate plasticisers, but there are not many that are able to compete when it comes to clinical performance, offering an acceptable safety profile, meeting current manufacturing and storage requirements. We cannot afford to sacrifice on product quality or safety and will have to carefully balance the risk-benefit ratio,” she says.

Tandy Coleman, CEO of Polyflor SA, educated the delegates about the important role vinyl floors play in hospitals, clinics, old age homes, rehabilitation and frail care facilities.

“Vinyl floors are hygienic as they create an impervious surface that is easy to maintain and clean. They inhibit bacteria growth, are waterproof, flexible, durable and offer excellent total cost of ownership,” Tandy explains.

Design and functionality go hand-in-hand with vinyl floors, as they are not only beautiful to look at, but offer exceptional versatility, practicality and comfort. Vinyl floors are soft underfoot, shock and noise absorbent (thereby helping to reduce noise and stress thanks to their fantastic acoustic properties) and significantly reduce slips, trips and falls when special slip resistant products are used.

“A lot of research has gone into developing modern vinyl floors that aid health and the recovery of patients or treating dementia with the use of colours, textures and designs,” she reported.

Delanie Bezuidenhout, general manager of My Walk Made with Soul, reported on their successes achieved with the collection and recycling of non-hazardous and uncontaminated PVC IV bags, PVC oxygen masks and PVC oxygen tubing from various participating Netcare hospitals.

“My Walk is a partnership between Adcock Ingram Critical Care and Netcare that manages the cradle-to -cradle process of collecting and recycling these products into new, durable and shiny school shoes made from 100 % recycled material!” Delanie explained.

It takes twenty empty IV bags and approximately 17 seconds to manufacture one pair of school shoes. With more than twenty hospitals around the country already participating in the project, the My Walk Made with Soul Project has already collected and diverted more than 41 913 kg of hospital waste from landfill.

“An IV bag is not just an IV bag. It provides life-sustaining and life-saving fluids to critically ill patients and then goes on to have an amazing second life as a pair of much-needed school shoes.  There are nearly 5 million children in South Africa that go to school without the right shoes. The My Walk Made with Soul project aims to give these learners improved safety and comfort while proudly walking in shoes that have contributed towards reducing the country’s landfill waste burden and emission of greenhouse gasses,” Delanie concludes.

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