Updated: May 12, 2020
Photo credit: 3DNatives
For many African countries, access to important medical equipment for COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment is proving difficult. For example, there are only 2,000 working ventilators in 41 African countries, and 10 African countries do not have a single ventilator.
Life-saving equipment such as ventilators, diagnostic test kits, personal protective equipment (PPE) and respirators are currently as scarce as gold because many African countries are unable to produce them locally, and production in other countries is not sufficient to allow for more shipment to the region (a global supply chain challenge). To overcome this supply challenge, some countries have ventured into innovative manufacturing. For instance, Senegal is now producing affordable $1 testing kits that tests for coronavirus and gives results in 10 minutes. But more can be done.
3D printing technology (aka additive manufacturing) offers an opportunity for more African countries, including Senegal, to produce vital components of medical equipment needed for COVID19 diagnosis and treatment. Already, 3D printing is being used in manufacturing vital medical components like mechanical bag valve masks, frames and mask adjusters, nasal swabs, as well as ventilator splitter tubes used in respirators, face shields, diagnostic test kits and ventilators.
Research by Dr. Jakob Heinen and Prof. Dr. Kai Hoberg, both experts on supply chain operating models for 3D printing, show that while 3D printing is still limited in terms of the number of components it can allow for manufacturing, it offers unique advantages. The advantages are not limited to manufacturing face shields [like Prusa Research company has done in Czech Republic], but also in creating digital designs for use in manufacturing vital components of medical equipment where original equipment manufacturers are limited [just like Issinova and Siemens have done].
African countries can take a cue from this technological development to fill in the obvious gaps in the global medical supply chain. Steps including reaching out to the 3D printing collective – Mobility Goes Additive - to help coordinate a continent-wide system for fast tracking the production of key components of ventilators and PPEs is needful. The European Union has done exactly that. Such measures can help meet urgent public health demands in the fight against COVID19 in Africa.
Article Credit: Basil Abia (guest writer)