The Case for Makers Against Covid19

Stay Calm and Keep Building

In the fight against Covid19, as an individual you can help on many fronts. You can help find a cure & vaccine. You can help inform the public and policy makers so they can take better public health decisions. You can help healthcare workers and hospitals treat the infected patients. At the very least you can help by being a concerned law abiding citizen. Now, if you have makers skills, you can help in ways no one else can.

In the fight against Covid19, as an individual you can help on many fronts. You can help find a cure & vaccine. You can help inform the public and policy makers so they can take better public health decisions. You can help healthcare workers and hospitals treat the infected patients. At the very least you can help by being a concerned law abiding citizen. Now, if you have makers skills, you can help in ways no one else can. As Adam Savage says about makers: “Humans do two things that make us unique from all other animals; we use tools and we tell stories. And when you make something, you’re doing both at once.”

On one hand, engineers, makers and Do It Yourself advocates around the world have come together with a lot of energy to create “things” that can help increase the healthcare system capacity during this pandemic. On the other hand, healthcare professionals have many needs such as: more protective personal equipment (masks, gloves etc..), more nurses & doctors on the front lines, more hospital beds and more equipment.

For example, Italian makers are 3D printing respirators parts for free as a last resort to save patients lives, Yemeni woman are reviving an old factory to sew face masks, makers all over the world are trying to make DIY ventilators to meet Coronavirus demand. Among the essential equipment, mechanical ventilators are used for the most critical patients cases, keeping their respiratory system active, effectively keeping them alive until they can get better. And right now as of 20 March 2020, there is a worldwide shortage of mechanical ventilators to treat the potential influx of Covid19 patients. This New York Time article explains the ventilators shortage problem in more details.

Let us take a simple example based on Lebanon, a country with a population of roughly 6 millions and with low resources to face the pandemic. There is 850 total ventilators in the country [1], a ratio of 141 ventilator per million. Out of the 850 ventilators, 80 are out of service and 500 are currently in use with sick patients. This leaves us with 270 ventilators, a ratio of 45 ventilator per million.

As of 20 March 2020, in the most conservative estimates, 10,000 individual will be infected by Covid 19, with 5% necessitating critical care which brings the number of people needing mechanical ventilation to 500 patients. If “flattening the curve” scenarios are successful, 270 ventilators available might get us through this pandemic. On the other hand, if efforts to spread the cases over time are unsuccessful we are looking at a shortage of at least 230 mechanical ventilators. This means that 230 patients will die without this critical care equipment.

Governments and hospitals are faced with a decision to ramp up capital expenditures and acquire hundreds if not thousands of mechanical ventilator or leave people to die. And even with existing financial resources to purchase ventilators which can cost up to 50,000 USD, manufacturers worldwide are looking at a backlog of couple of month in order to meet worldwide demands. This is where the makers community contribution comes in timely. If the community of makers around the world can successfully produce a reliable ventilator that can be rapidly produced and deployed around the world, their efforts might save a lot of lives.

However a DIY ventilator is a very risky endeavor. Mechanical ventilators are highly regulated complicated device. People’s lives depend on them, therefore manufacturers are held to very high standards of quality which is hard to replicate in a do it yourself setting. In addition, legal liabilities to manufacturers are very stringent, and threat of litigation by patients and hospitals are very real. Recently the Italian engineers who 3D printed valves for respirators to save patients lives are under the threat of litigation. Moreover getting the approvals and certifications required to allow a DIY device into the healthcare system quick enough is close to impossible. With the immensity of the task laying ahead, it is easy to give up and do nothing. However, thinking with a positive mindset DIYers and makers of ventilators can be the last line of defense to give back the breath of life to critical Covid19 patients. This strategy is hedging its success on being the least of two evil scenarios: when presented with a choice, will hospitals, governments, patients, and doctors choose to use uncertified DIY respirators or do nothing letting patients die?

To all makers around the world: “Stay Calm, and Keep Making” To all makers around the world, the ones on lock down, the ones who tinker in their garages after work, the ones who are just getting started with an idea, a screwdriver and a paper, the ones who turn their living room into a testing lab, the ones who can’t throw their mountain of things because it might come in useful someday, the ones who wake up in the middle of the night in eureka moments, the ones who care deeply about the world, deeply enough to do something about it, overcoming their fear of failure because they want to make a difference, the ones who don’t give a damn but delight in the state of flow that comes with the intensity of focus on the problem in their hand, to all of these makers I say : “Stay Calm and Keep Making”.

Stay calm and keep making 3D printed valves, keep making ventilators, keep making masks. The spirit of making that you exhibit is a beacon of hope to humanity in these difficult times. That is how we fight Covid19, with hope and sweat.

Note :
- [1] LBCI show aired on national TV on 19 March 2020 between 9 and 11PM.
- You can find the full article on Medium as well as more information about the Covent19 project on my Github repository.

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