The fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers across the country. And medical professionals who are working in close contact with patients are feeling the impact of delays in securing PPE.
When University of Toronto medical student Ashraf Altesha and his peers recognized the demand and saw their mentors supporting patients during the crisis, they wanted to do something to help — from a distance.
“A lot of professors were double-booked in the hospitals, yet they found the time to teach us online. Other healthcare workers such as nurses, were shouldering equal burdens,” Altesha tells Daily Hive.
While some of his peers were volunteering to help with groceries or supporting seniors at elderly homes and long-term care facilities, Altesha’s group came up with the idea of making 3D-printed masks.
Once the 3D PPE GTHA (3D Personal Protective Equipment for Greater Toronto Hamilton Area) team was assembled, they began talking to people in the community and securing sponsors, as well as funding from the university faculty.
“We checked out different designs that were feasible, that were cheap and easy to distribute, and we ended up with one that was approved in the US,” says Altesha. “We’ve printed around 15,000 shields to-date and sent them to the major hospitals and some clinics in the city.”
When it comes to making the masks, it’s a community effort made up of individuals, students, and friends of friends. The team has approximately 100 amateur printers in total, with much of the equipment owned by people who are “printing around the clock.” All volunteers are provided with the material and money to make the mask visors.
“We have a 12-year-old boy in Quebec who recently received a 3D printer. He emailed us and said he wanted to help out,” notes Altesha. “It truly is the community helping out here.”
Altesha says industry-grade masks can cost anywhere from $4 to $10 per piece, especially when purchased in bulk, and nurses usually change them between patients. The team’s masks, on the other hand, cost roughly $1 to make.
“The masks we’re producing aren’t as luxurious as the industry-grade ones, but they’re a one-time use mask and it costs significantly less to make them considering the plastic, the donations, and the people helping out.”
Altesha says everyone the team has spoken to from hospitals and clinics is truly appreciative of their efforts.
When medical staff are running low of PPE or waiting for supplies, they can email 3D PPE GTHA. The team then sends out an emergency shipment of anything from 200 to 400 masks at a time. “We try to ramp up production and send them a shipment as soon as we can.”
Although most of Altesha’s medical school classes are now being done via Zoom, he says it’s motivating to be learning from individuals who are out there working on the frontline. “You really get that motivation and the drive to help out as much as you can because you can’t be with them on the frontline.”
For now, 3D PPE GTHA will continue to support their mentors and healthcare workers from a distance. Altesha states, “We plan to keep going until this whole pandemic pans out or the demand for face shields decreases.”