How a community of makers in Tanzania came together to build face shields, infrared thermometers and more
By Shaukatali Hussein, Robotech Tanzania - There was a stir in the atmosphere for many when the pandemic hit Dar Es Salaam. With businesses and schools coming to an emergency shutdown, a lot of planning was needed to ensure survival and safety measures were in place to moderate and operate safely.
As a maker that is part of a community of talented individuals, we began discussing and figuring out how best we could put our skills to use to help our community fight this pandemic. We began identifying what fellow makers in different countries around Europe and Asia were working on, in terms of equipment and tools, to aid healthcare workers in their areas.
Defining the challenge
We learned that the main challenge was access to PPEs. So we began working on 3D printing face shields as a means to provide accessibility and cost-effective solutions to one and all. These shortages were quite extreme, and working alone with just a few makers wouldn't do the job. The Human Development Initiative Fund or HDIF reached out to us where Simon, among the project coordinators, mapped out local innovators with access to 3D printers as well as resources to meet the needs of the growing demands. Some of the makers involved were DIT Design Studio, Stic Labs, Uhuru Labs, BitsnBytes and Robotech Labs.
Peter Nyanda from UNDP also joined along to coordinate between the hospitals and community of makers. We created an SMS platform where healthcare workers would access and request for the number of PPEs they would need. At the end, we were able to make more than 3,000 face shields.
Receiving an email about the COVID-19 Detect and Protect Challenge, a joint programme between UNDP and Hackster – a global community of makers, innovators and hardware developers – changed my insight towards the scope of innovation. It gave me the opportunity to lead this community as well as open doors for educating and raising awareness. We got to prototype other highly important devices that were not easily available to many healthcare practitioners due to cost and reach. Being a Hackster ambassador, I was already excited to get building
I was observing all the innovative solutions that were being posted by innovators alike across the globe with cost effective prototypes. As the Hackster ambassador to Tanzania, we took notes, studied these innovations and detailed out the most promising projects that we could replicate and deploy in our community.
Building prototypes as one community
When the president declared the country COVID-19-free, everything began going back to normal. People returned to their daily routines but for me, there was a lingering fear that a second wave may not be too far away. Upon receiving the materials from UNDP for prototyping, we decided to change our approach on how we could best test these solutions with hospitals and healthcare centres.
We opted to host an event, the BuildAThon, as a means to raise awareness. This was how we wanted to involve the community of young makers, healthcare workers and everyone who would benefit from this programme in prototyping and testing these various solutions that were falling short in supply in hospitals.
We chose to make pulse oximeters, infrared thermometers, face shields, touchless water faucets and social distance alerting face coverings. The other prototypes that were also built apart from the aforementioned prototypes included a modular disinfectant spray system and facial recognition systems to allow people to enter a premises only if they are wearing face masks.
With over 60 participants in the session, we generated a lot of new ideas and projects that doctors as well as healthcare workers found were essential but that rural communities lacked access to.
Our closing remarks during the event was to allow any innovator in need of space, tools, components as well as equipment would be allowed and supported by us to continue the trend towards application-based impact. Most of the extra items that were sent to us were then distributed and given off to all the participants so that they could continue inspiring their fellow colleagues.
With all the feedback we have received from hospital visits and surveys, we are now tackling the challenge of accuracy, cost, accessibility and reach throughout Tanzania on the new equipment and tools that would not only be needed during the pandemic, but also for the medical care of our people. We are just getting started... watch this space for more updates throughout the rest of the year.