MREPC Says Petition to Ban Latex Gloves Confers No Clear Benefit to Healthcare Sector

The Malaysian Rubber Export Promotion Council (MREPC) expressed its concern today regarding a recent petition calling for a ban on all natural rubber latex medical gloves. The petition was filed by Public Citizen to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and argued that the gloves pose a danger to patients and medical workers. However, the current use of low-protein, low-allergen latex gloves is consistent with recommendations by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). There is no clear evidence that any benefit would result from a ban on latex gloves as requested by this petition, according to the MREPC.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and the American Nurses Association also do not support the total ban of latex gloves. Like NIOSH and OSHA, these organizations urge users of latex gloves to select the low-allergen, powder-free types. The availability of these improved latex gloves makes it possible for the majority of the healthcare personnel who are not latex sensitive to continue to rely on the proven barrier protection of latex gloves without heightened allergy concern. However, it is recommended that latex allergic individuals should use non-latex alternatives, such as nitrile gloves, which have adequate barrier capability.

MREPC officials said that not only does the petition run counter to the recommendations of major health and safety organizations, if taken seriously it could eliminate the medical gloves with the best track record for barrier protection and environmental safety at a time when such protection is of utmost importance.

According to the CDC, about 2 million people are affected by hospital-acquired infections every year, leading to about 90,000 deaths, resulting in an additional $5 billion in healthcare costs annually. Banning the use of latex gloves would deprive healthcare professionals and the patients they serve of the best barrier protection available on the medical glove market, according to the MREPC. The group adds that although latex-free alternatives may be available, their barrier capability to protect against infectious micro-organisms is not as good as NRL gloves, as demonstrated by numerous studies. While nitrile gloves are recommended for allergic individuals who are sensitive to latex, caution has to be taken when using vinyl gloves because their barrier properties are inferior to latex as well as nitrile, the MREPC says.

The MREPC adds further that natural rubber latex gloves are made from a renewable resource and are biodegradable. Synthetic alternatives, on the other hand, are manufactured from petroleum chemicals, which are often hazardous. The burning of synthetic gloves releases harmful substances such as dioxins, cyanides, and hydrogen chlorides to the environment. Their disposal in landfills releases toxic chemicals into the soil, threatening to poison ground water. Latex gloves are in fact the only green gloves available in the market place.

The group says that much improvement has been made in the manufacturing of medical gloves today, particularly latex gloves. In addition, stricter regulatory requirements for medical gloves have been implemented by the FDA to provide the public with a high level of health safety. As rightly pointed out by the petition, since 1998, the predominant medical gloves used in healthcare have been the high quality powder-free latex, and synthetic gloves. However, the MREPC says there are healthcare workers who prefer the use of powdered latex gloves, known for their durability, ease of donning, and comfort. It would be unreasonable to deprive them of this option as long as the powdered gloves they use are of high quality, low-protein and low-powder.

Past concerns about latex allergies prompted the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia to develop a new standard for low-protein, low-powder and powder-free latex examination gloves. Formulated in consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other relevant authorities, the Standard Malaysian Glove (SMG) provides the U.S. healthcare industry with latex gloves certified to meet stringent barrier and tensile strength specifications as well as rigorous standards for protein and powder contents.

Unlike the powdered gloves used in the 1990s, the powdered latex gloves today not only have much reduced powder, but also lower allergy risk. It is doubtful that the lightly powdered variety of latex gloves would bring about serious foreign body reactions and latex allergy sensitization as allegedly reported for the older generation of powdered gloves. Further studies should therefore be conducted to verify this before executing a ban on the use of glove powder.

Today, advancement in latex glove manufacturing technologies has also led to the production of low-protein latex gloves without powder, according to the MREPC. The use of these improved gloves has been shown by many hospital studies to reduce the incidences of sensitization and allergic reactions. Many allergic individuals wearing non-latex gloves can also work safely alongside their co-workers donning these low-protein gloves. It is still recommended that allergic individuals use non-latex alternatives, such as nitrile gloves, that have adequate barrier protection.

The Malaysian Rubber Export Promotion Council (www.mrepc.com)is an agency under Malaysia's Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities, charged with providing factual information about rubber and rubber products, including natural rubber latex gloves. The council also works to enhance Malaysia's position as a world class exporter of rubber and rubber products by supporting research and enhancing technical support services for a diverse range of high quality rubber products produced with transparency and with good manufacturing practices.

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