Malaysian Innovation: A passion for clean air

D’Cruz (left) with January Geirnaert, head of digital marketing for Soma Medical.

D’Cruz (left) with January Geirnaert, head of digital marketing for Soma Medical.

By T.K. Tamby

If you were to throw a pebble into a crowd, the likelihood of hitting someone with an allergy is probably one in three. This may sound high, but it is backed by statistics from the World Allergy Organisation – roughly 30 to 40% of the world suffers from allergic diseases.

Doctors have also noted a significant rise in the number of people who suffer from multiple allergies as well as an increase in the severity of the symptoms, which could lead to fatality.

While people spend a lot of time worrying over outdoor pollution, the real danger may actually lie indoors – the air in your home could contain up to a 100 times more pollutants than outdoor air. The pollution from biological agents in indoor air related to damp environment, dust and mould increases the risk of respiratory diseases in children and adults by 50%, reducing life expectancy. According to the World Health Organisation, indoor pollution is estimated to cause around two million premature deaths every year, mostly in developing countries.

Most of us spend an average of 22 hours a day indoors either at work, at school or at home. As a result, 91% of the air we breathe in is indoors. Despite the rise in diseases and severe allergies caused by poor indoor air quality, there has not been much effort to create awareness and find solutions to the problem.

This fact was pointed out to Leonard D’Cruz 15 years ago by allergy specialist Dr Ranbir Kaulsay, who was a member of the expert committee and the global advisory panel for the World Allergy Organisation.

That was the turning point for D’Cruz, a former civil engineer who suffers from allergy. He collaborated with Dr Kaulsay, who is now a clinical consultant to his company Soma Medical Sdn Bhd, to work on both the technology and solutions to improve indoor air quality by eradicating dangerous pollutants.

“While I worked on the hardware and technology, Dr Kaulsay contributed the clinical aspects of it, such as the microbial challenge testing,” he tells Business Circle in a recent interview.

Pathogens and particulate matter

Indoor air can be polluted by Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), Particulate Matter and Pathogens (pic). People are unaware of the pathogens until it manifests as problems like allergy, infection and contamination, says D’Cruz. He also points out that even air fresheners can pollute as they may contain VOC that could disrupt hormone levels.

He says despite its detrimental effects on health, indoor pollution is a subject matter that does not get the attention it deserves, which is why the company’s marketing effort is very much centred on creating awareness. “We are not into merely pushing our solutions and products, we want clients to realise why solutions offered to improve indoor air are crucial.”

The company places great emphasis on identifying the problem, its cause and the specific needs of the client before creating a solution protocol. “Additionally, to assure the clients that the pollutants have been removed, we customise the solutions to address their specific needs, and we conduct a microbial challenge test on the treated air to ensure that prescribed solution protocol has been effective,” says D’Cruz.

He says the microbial challenge test conducted by an independent institution not only provides assurance for the client but also serves as a validation for Soma Medical’s technology and the solutions deployed.

Some of the medical solution protocol includes:

> particulate matter filtration using mechanical filters like the High Efficiency Particulate Air Filter which removes 99.97% of all airborne particulates of 0.3 microns and above in size

> Gas-Phase Air Filtration which removes gaseous pollutants, VOCs and their odours

> Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) which is a C-band ultraviolet lamp that emits germicidal wavelengths that are able to alter the DNA of microorganism like viruses to prevent replication

> Photocatalytic Oxidation, where Nano Titanium Dioxide is used to transform biological and gaseous pollutants into harmless product

> and Air Ionisation where air ion generators disperse negatively charged ions into the air to act as air cleaner.

Apart from removing indoor pollution, the company offers a range of products as part of its continuous solution to indoors that are air pollution-free.

These include an infection control unit with a track record of effectively containing infections in operating theatres and communicable disease wards, air purification systems, UVmax Lamps, Nano Titanium Dioxide Coating and Medilite Ionising fluorescent lights.

The technology offered by the company is developed in-house and for D’Cruz, who left civil engineering to become a Certified Indoor Environmentalist, the science of clean air is a passion.

Military standard medical grade technology

Indoor air pollution is a problem that affects almost all sectors and the company is constantly studying specific problems for various sectors in an effort to develop specialised products and solutions.

“We provide military standard medical grade technology at a fraction of a cost when compared to our competitors,” he says.

Despite this, D’Cruz initially met with an uphill struggle when he wanted to develop the local market, especially the healthcare and other critical sectors.

But now, Soma Medical has managed to make inroads into diverse sectors in the Malaysian market, including the local chapter of the International Organisation For Migration, before targeting the overseas market, where its products solution received considerable recognition.

“We started by targeting developing countries in Asia and Africa who were in dire need for an effective and a reasonable priced solution like ours,” explains D’Cruz. In 2011 the company signed a contract with the Tanzanian Environmental Authority to supply indoor air quality solutions to public hospitals in Tanzania.

News of their products and solutions brought global nano technology solution provider Nanoland Global to their doorstep and through a strategic partnership, Soma Medical is now exploring the specialised market for their new range of products and services.

“Nanoland has a considerable reach in the specialised market at a global level not only for current our products and solutions but also for our future initiatives.

“Through this partnership we are currently making inroads into specialised areas in the food and beverage industry for our Leo 2 ionising light, which disinfects and clears pollution without contaminating stored food and beverages” says Cruz.

Currently, Soma Medical’s global market spans Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, with plans to grow it further.

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