Using 3D printers to tackle Gaza's medical shortages

Using 3D printers to tackle Gaza's medical shortages
From Al Jazeera - September 5, 2017

Gaza City - The stethoscope, a staple device in modern medicine, is a luxury item in Gaza.

At Gaza's largest hospital, al-Shifa, there are only one or two stethoscopes in each department; doctors left without one resort to pressing their ears against patients' chests to diagnose an illness.

"That would be the best-case scenario," Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani told Al Jazeera."If someone's full of blood, most doctors are not going to put their ears to the chest. So, doctors are making decisions without that piece of information."

Loubani and three of his peers are working to change that. As part of the Glia team, their goal is to mass-manufacture low-cost, high-quality medical devices for Gaza using 3D printing. Theyrecently received their first batch of stethoscopes.

In their office in the centre of Gaza City, a small square piece of the 3D printer moves back and forth across the plate, refining two long pieces.In about two hours, it will finish printing all the pieces to form the tested and approved 3D printed stethoscope - the first of its kind in the Gaza Strip.

"It looks like a toy, but the quality is just as good as the leading brands," Mohammed Abu Matar, 31, told Al Jazeera, as he held up one of their finished stethoscopes. The item costs only $3, compared with the industry-leading Littmann Cardiology III,which sells for around $200.

It is a huge feat for the Gaza Strip, which suffers from a shortage of much-needed medical equipment. Under the decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade, a wide range of medical items are banned from entering Gaza without special coordination due to Israel's "dual-use" concerns - namely, that the items could also be used for military purposes.

Affordability is another obstacle. A $300 stethoscope is roughly equivalent to a doctor's monthly salary in Gaza.

Loubani first thought of printing stethoscopes after spending some time operating in al-Shifa's emergency room.

"During one of the wars in 2012, it became really obvious that you ca not provide proper care to patients with the equipment that's available here," Loubani said.

Initially, each time that Loubani returned as a visiting doctor, he would bring in bags full of books and equipment for the doctors in Gaza.

"But those paths get disrupted really easily," he said. "I can no longer travel through Egypt, because I was in jail there. On my way into Israel, they searched me. Even very simple medical equipment is not allowed in ... With huge disruption in trade routes, it became obvious that we have to start making things in Gaza if we are ever to be able to have a reliable supply of medical equipment."

Abu Matar, a telecommunications graduate, also arrived at the same realisation after years of making his own devices, including negative ion and ozone generators. He always had the recurring problem of missing pieces that were unavailable in Gaza.

"I started thinking of how to make a machine that can make those missing pieces," Abu Matar said.

The 3D printer - banned from Gaza - was the obvious solution to their problems. Matar scraped together all the spare parts and, by following open source designs online, he built a 3D printer himself. He now runs the first 3D printing business in Gaza, called Tashkeel 3D.


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