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Lending a (sanitised) multi-cultural hand

The students in a University of Otago School of Pharmacy laboratory. Photo: Shyamal Das

A multi-cultural team comprising staff and students from the University of Otago’s School of Pharmacy has been aiding New Zealand’s fight against the Covid-19 virus.

Senior Lecturer, Dr Shyamal Das, and his six students have made 100 litres of an ethanol-based hand sanitiser for the University; thus, freeing up commercial supplies for the public.

From March 23 to 25, this team donated three days of their time to produce the solution, racing against the March 26 national isolation deadline for households and rushing around town looking for enough bottles.

The resulting hand rub is supplying all the needs of the University’s Dunedin campus and excess has been given to Civil Defence. Dr Das says the local New Zealand Police, Fire and Emergency and St John have now requested some.

Outside the University of Otago School of Pharmacy with their hand sanitiser are (left to right): Dr Shyamal Das, Nicole Wood, Bishal Adhikari, Rishi Shah, Prakash Khadka, Rakesh Bastola and Tushar Saha. Photo: Sweta Singh

So this week, the team resumed its voluntary work in the lab and can do so because the University has declared this an essential service, Dr Das says.

The team members are from Nepal, Tanzania, New Zealand and Bangladesh and some have previously helped others in their homelands.

A PhD student from Bangladesh, Tushar Saha, says when his supervisor first shared the sanitiser idea, the Covid-19 situation was worsening and the student was excited to contribute to preventing the spread of the virus.

I was also interested in doing something which would positively impact the community.”


Using hand sanitiser reduces the spread of microorganisms, which lessens the chances of people contracting Covid-19, he says.

Tushar has volunteered many times in his country, which suffers from natural calamities, such as floods and cyclones. He worked in the pharmacy sector in Bangladesh, giving free medicine, food and hygiene and cleanliness seminars to those adversely affected.

He is now glad to assist the New Zealand community.

Dr Das has also served voluntarily in organisations, such as Rotary, pharmaceutical societies in Bangladesh, and Bengali communities in Australia and Dunedin, where he has lived since 2013.

“I always believed in giving the community back and I always believed as a human being that we are not born for ourselves alone,” he says.

As the Covid-19 pandemic developed worldwide, he noted the shortage of hand sanitiser in Dunedin.

“I desperately felt that I should do something in the crisis.”

As a pharmaceutical scientist with 20 years teaching experience, Dr Das has made such solutions before. The School of Pharmacy Dean, Professor Carlo Marra, initially provided the money to buy the chemicals and now the University is supporting the project.

The sanitiser follows a World Health Organisation recipe and has a final concentration of ethanol 80% (v/v), glycerol 1.45% (v/v) and hydrogen peroxide 0.125% (v/v).

Its production has been so successful that Australian universities are inquiring about making their own.

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For further information:

About New Zealand measures to combat Covid-19


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