Kenya's 3D printing community begins producing COVID-19 equipment
A face shield produced by Ultra Red Technologies./Social Media.

A face shield produced by Ultra Red Technologies./Social Media.

As Kenya prepares for a rise in novel coronavirus COVID-19 cases, 3D printing companies are designing and printing personal protective equipment (PPEs) and parts for medical devices to address the expected medical equipment deficit in the country.

Ultra Red Technologies, along with a coalition of other Kenyan-owned 3D printers, has borrowed from open source prototypes designed by 3DVerkstan, a company in Sweden, to print plastic face shields to fill a gap before established plastic manufacturers can create a mold and begin producing quickly at affordable prices.

The Nairobi-based Ultra Red has also designed a 3D printed prototype for a ventilator adaptor that could allow doctors to treat either two or four patients at one time if necessary, working with established medical equipment distributor, Nairobi X-Ray Supplies, to administer testing on sets of artificial lungs.

3D printing of high-end medical equipment is on the rise in Africa. In Uganda, the Comprehensive Rehabilitations Services hospital worked with a consortium of Canadian organizations to trial 3D printing of prosthetic limbs for amputees. 

Rather than being cast with plaster in the traditional way, this pilot digitally scanned and modeled the limbs before sending them for production, which appears to have produced better fitting limbs at a quarter of the usual production time.

Despite Kenya's lead in digital technology on the continent its nascent 3D printing industry is relatively small compared to 3D printing capabilities even compared to other African countries, such as South Africa.

Like other Sub Saharan Africa countries, Kenya's health system is at risk of being easily overwhelmed if the East African country saw a steep rise in coronavirus cases. As well as insufficient medical staff there is a shortage of equipment often because many countries rely on imports or donations from outside the country. But while “just in time” 3D printing can help Kenya fill some temporary gaps in its medical supplies deficit, experts caution against touting 3D printing as a perfect solution that can override industrialization hurdles in the country.

"I hesitate to say [3D printing in Kenya] will leapfrog to any industrialization,”said Dr. Aleksandra Gadzała, head of research at the Singularity Group and an expert in 3D printing in Africa. “Kenya can do 3D printing. The question is…. Is it just a short term stopgap?…Or is it scalable?”

SOURCE: Quartz