An African University Is Using 3D Printing To Solve Medical Equipment Shortages In Pandemic Fight

By  |  April 9, 2020

Amid complaints of the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) among health workers in South Africa who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight, an educational institution has taken matters into its own hands, and with some style too.

The University of Pretoria is putting some of its most sophisticated technology to work in tackling the shortage of PPE. As Reuters’ David Doyle reported, the university is using its cutting edge 3D printing technology to manufacture visor frames for face shields.

Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) has repeatedly ruled out talks of the novel coronavirus being airborne, it is known that apart from being conveyed in respiratory droplets of carriers and being transmitted when contact is made with the mouth, nose, or eyes, the virus can also linger in the air for minutes before coming to rest on surfaces.

Health workers, thus, need full protective gear to handle patients who are infected with the highly contagious virus. But this protective gear is fast running out and/or scarcely available in many African countries. 

In Zimbabwe, for instance, it was reported that doctors abandoned their posts and stopped working altogether to prevent what they described as a “suicide mission” and protest the non-availability of PPEs in the fight against COVID-19.

In South Africa where the highest number of infections in Africa have been recorded to-date, PPEs are starting to run out such that local media have even reported on health professionals having to reuse the masks meant to protect them due to shortages.

It is with this in mind that the University of Pretoria has now deployed its 3D printers to manufacture visors. Each of the printers takes about an hour to produce a visor, summing up to around 20 per day.

The project is being led by the manager of the University’s Digital and Innovation Centre, Isaac Van der Walt.

“3D printers allow us to act quickly on the demand,” said Van der Walt. “It’s rapid prototyping, so it’s not mass-manufacturing. But with 3D printers, we have the ability to react to this call and I think we need to give our healthcare workers all they need and all the help they can get.”

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has found increased use in various parts of the world as the demand for medical equipment heightens, especially as medical personnel, who arguably need it the most, now find themselves competing with everyone else for items like nose masks.

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