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3D Printing Community Helping Kenya’s COVID-19 Fight

With the increasing cases of COVID-19 in Kenya, the expected medical deficiency in the country is being met by designing and printing PPEs and parts of medical devices.

Nairobi-based Ultra Red has designed a 3D printed prototype for a ventilator which will allow a doctor to treat two to four patients at a time. The company has borrowed open source prototypes designed by a Sweden based company 3DVerkstan to print plastic face shields which will fill a gap till the time plastic manufacturers can create moulds, the company is manufacturing the 3D equipments at an affordable price.

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

With East African countries, much relying on donations from outside the country for their health equipment, they are facing a huge risk if the toll of COVID-19 patients see a rise in the countries. They will not only be facing a lack of safety kits, but also the medical staff. In such crucial times, 3D printing technology can help the countries fill the temporary gaps in its medical supply deficit.

“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?”

Gadzala warns that there can often be a tendency to overemphasize the power of technological solutions without considering the wider context in which these technologies operate. To grow its budding 3D printing landscape into a full-fledged industry, Kenya must also develop regulations and quality checks, along with an enabling ecosystem of startups, innovation hubs, and partnerships that can foster growth in the long-term.

As of April 15, Kenya stands at 255 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 10 deaths, and the numbers are rising. In the short term, 3D printing is a homegrown solution to Kenya’s challenge of lack of Covid-19 PPE and medical equipment. Many of the 3D printers stepping up to support the Covid-19 response are founded and run by Kenyans.

“We’ve got the largest 3D printing capacity in the country and we’re able to quickly prototype,” said Mehul Shah, founder and CEO of Ultra Red. “So the way that we looked at helping out was to see what are the quick things that we can do… in terms of missing production.”

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