3D-printing community comes to the aid of medical staff

Both the University of Johannesburg's Makerspace lab, and a private, community-driven NGO are using 3D printing to create much-needed face shields for doctors and other medical staff working in healthcare facilities.


Help is on the way for healthcare workers scrambling for face masks, with 3D-printing technology aiding them in protecting themselves and their patients during the Covid-19 outbreak. Doctors and nurses are facing a shortage of face masks and other equipment as panicked South Africans have bought out most supplies of the protective gear. A doctor working in an ICU at one of the private hospitals in Gauteng told The Citizen they were facing a shortage of masks, and are now required to source their own protective equipment. Speaking anonymously, she said they were forced to reverse their protocol of discarding…

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Help is on the way for healthcare workers scrambling for face masks, with 3D-printing technology aiding them in protecting themselves and their patients during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Doctors and nurses are facing a shortage of face masks and other equipment as panicked South Africans have bought out most supplies of the protective gear.

A doctor working in an ICU at one of the private hospitals in Gauteng told The Citizen they were facing a shortage of masks, and are now required to source their own protective equipment.

Speaking anonymously, she said they were forced to reverse their protocol of discarding their masks after attending to each patient. But this was not the hospital’s fault, she said.

“People panicked and wanted to protect themselves and their families. But the protocol would normally be that once I work in theatre or ICU, and I see a patient, I take the gloves and masks for that particular patient off and throw them away immediately, because of infective risks. The irony now is we wash the gloves and reuse them along with the same masks. We have reversed the protocol, which is to prevent infection spread.”

Now, an organisation, Ruah 3D, is turning to 3D-printing technology to print thousands of face shields to be donated to healthcare workers in need.

Ruah, which means breathe in Hebrew, was an initiative that started when the country went into lockdown last Friday. About 600 people came together to help the country’s healthcare workers.

With help from sponsors, 5,000 3D-printed face shields were printed in just under a week, said Ruah 3D’s Cornelius Johannes van der Steenhoven.

An A4 transparency shield is attached to the headrest by metal or plastic clips and an elastic band is used at the back to tighten the shield. PICTURE: Supplied

AlphaPharm pharmacy would also be aiding Ruah 3D as part of the community-driven initiative.

The shields are made of four components which include the headrest, an A4 transparency shield, a metal or plastic clip to keep the shield and headrest in place and an elastic band at the back to tighten the shield.

“We are in the process of distributing them. They are not for sale, they will be only be donated. We are starting in Gauteng first. We call on anyone to help us with sponsorship and appeal to organisations like universities and schools to help us with A4 transparency sheets,” he told The Citizen.

The University of Johannesburg’s Library Makerspace team had also started a similar initiative of using 3D printing to produce face shields. So far, 10 shields have been distributed to various campus clinics at the university and about 15 are to be delivered to Netcare911.

A piece of polyethylene sheet is attached to the visor to act as a protective barrier between healthcare workers and patients. The sheet can be sanitised between uses or replaced, says UJ’s Makerspace expert Rudie Strauss.

At least 10 shields can be produced each day in the UJ Makerspace lab, which is based at the Doornfontein campus. The team was working on designs solely involving laser cutting that could increase production to more than 50 shields per day.

“The equipment is in demand right now as we are being forced to come up with improvised solutions to address the lack of traditional equipment and devices. Also, this material that we are using is hard to find.”

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