Covid-19: Citizens innovate to produce protective equipment at home
When 28-year-old Utkarsh Kumar Gupta, a Delhi-based engineer, started working from home just days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24, he decided to devote the extra time he had to help health care workers and essential service providers who have been working on the field to fight the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
He came up with the design of a face shield made from flexi glass, overhead projector (OHP) sheet, and adjustable elastic straps, which he has been distributing to health care professionals, policemen, pharmacists, even delivery people. Over the last week, Gupta has managed to make and distribute over 300 pieces to front-line workers, to protect them from direct splatter from cough and sneezes.
“The face shields are donated to people who are outside so that we can stay at home, safe. The feedback that we have received is very encouraging. Along with the frontline health workers, we are also distributing these face shields to pharmacists, delivery agents and the staff at fuel stations,” said Gupta.
Explaining the design of the face shield, Gupta said it weighs just 40 grams, and has a frame is made from flexi glass over which an OHP sheet is attached. This can be removed or changed. The frame has the provision for ventilation so that the plastic sheet does not fog and it can be worn comfortably for longer durations. The apparatus goes through a four-stage sterilisation process before it gets distributed and each costs Rs 80-Rs 90 to make.
With several countries fighting the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) – some are encouraging university students and NGOs to produce low-cost face shields that prevent an infected person’s respiratory droplets – to enter the mouth and nose passageways.
Health experts said these shields also prevent health care professionals from the urge of touching their face, which could spread the infection.
In Delhi, Gupta is not the only private citizen working on face shield designs.
Dr Ashish Kakar, senior consultant, dental surgery, Apollo Hospital, too has come up with his own design of reusable face masks, which has respirators attached to them. These N-95 respirators can also be produced using 3-D printers.
“While the face shields are something that medical professionals can use, these face masks can be used by anyone. The frame is made out of plastic and it has a membrane inside, that can be washed and reused. The design can be tweaked and instead of respirators, one can also attach a cloth to it,” he said.
He added that while the government is importing personal protective equipment (PPE) and masks from other countries, it is important that local production is encouraged so that there is no shortage. “This is a global crisis and everyone is trying to stock up protective gear for their own people. It is best to push local production as much as possible, so that we have a good stock of masks, gloves, shields and other equipment, if the situation worsens,” he said.
His nephew, 20-year-old Udit Kakar, has been working on face shields using 3-D printing as well. A student of business administration, he says this is his way of thanking the doctors, nurses and lab technicians, and to ensure that there is sufficient protective gear for them to do their jobs.
The face shield, which weighs around 20gms, has three easily assembled parts. The shield itself is made of polylactic acid. It has holes for respiration and fits over the nose and mouth. “A transparent sheet is attached to the face shield to act as a protective barrier to protect healthcare workers. The transparent sheet can either be sanitised between uses or simply replaced,” he said.
A frame that slips on to the shield from behind, holds the sheet in place, apart from offering better grip. Each of these shield costs around Rs 120 to Rs 140, he added.
While these young professionals and students are using technology, many others, like Pushpa Kumar, the mother of a junior resident doctor at a government hospital, is encouraging people to use everyday items such as plastic sheets, cut-outs from old calendar pages, and drawstrings to make safety gear. Through a Facebook demonstration, Kumar said this is her contribution towards the “fight against Covid-19”.
“Contributing to fight against COVID-19, prepared this face shield to mitigate the severe shortage of this PPE (personal protective equipment) in Delhi. It is simple and can easily be prepared at home,” Kumar said in a Facebook post.
Experts says while many innovators and companies are contributing batches of face shields, these small initiatives by individuals are an encouragement for those who are working in front lines.
Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) said this homemade equipment can be useful for people who are working on the ground and are at a greater risk of contracting an infection through splatter of sputum.
“This is a time when we should welcome help from all quarters. Anything that is shielding your face can be used, but again a regular person does not need to roam around wearing face shields,” Guleria said.