As It Happens

Canadian doctor who works in Gaza makes 3D-printed face shields for COVID-19

Dr. Tarek Loubani runs the Glia Project, which produces low-cost medical supplies for impoverished regions

Posted: March 19, 2020
Last Updated: March 20, 2020

Dr. Wanda Millard tests out one of the early prototypes of a 3D-printed face shield for health-care workers to use during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Tarek Loubani )

Transcript

A Canadian doctor is using the skills he picked up working in the Gaza Strip to fight the COVID-19 pandemic at home.

Dr. Tarek Loubani, a London, Ont., emergency room doctor, is using equipment from his medical supplies charity, The Glia Project, to make 3D-printed face shields for his colleagues in Canada. 

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"As we started to see the numbers increasing, it became obvious that Canada will very much have the same trajectory as everywhere else," Loubani told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"That's when we realized if everybody else is running out of face shields and other personal protective equipment, then so will we."

So he turned to his international charity, which produces low-cost, 3D-printed medical supplies like stethoscopes and tourniquets for conflict zones and impoverished areas. 

He and his colleagues at Glia got to work designing a face shield that can be printed by the hundreds. It is made from plastic, Mylar and elastic, and covers the whole face, protecting the nose and eyes from droplets that may contain the rapidly spreading coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. 

They can be used as well as, or as an alternative to, the N95 face masks that health-care workers usually wear. 

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"Looking and surveying the scene, this was really a win for us that [a mask shortage] was something that none of my colleagues will have to worry about. That's been my promise to my colleagues. And soon that will be my promise to all health-care workers in Canada," he said. 

In this Sept. 7, 2015, photo, Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Palestinian-Canadian doctor, poses for a picture with a 3D-printed stethoscope around his neck in Gaza City. (Khalil Hamra/Associated Press)

As of Thursday, Canada has more than 801 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, an illness caused by the novel coronavirus that first emerged in China. Presumptive cases refer to people who have tested positive at the provincial level, but whose results have not yet been confirmed at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

The number of cases in Canada has been increasing daily, sparking concern about the capacity of the nation's health-care systems.

Loubani says the atmosphere on the front lines of the crisis feels very similar to working in a conflict zone.

"It really does feel right now like when we're sitting in Al-Shifa Hospital, the biggest hospital in Gaza, and we know that there is a bombing coming and we're just waiting. That's exactly how it feels like now," Loubani said.

"Everybody's gloved, everybody's gowned and everybody's waiting."

A 3D-printer makes components of face shields for Canadian health-care workers. (Submitted by Tarek Loubani)

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And the similarities don't end there.

"A big part of it as well is that things break down, chains of command break down, equipment supply lines break down. And when those things happen, the most valuable thing that you can do and participate in is these acts of medical creativity," he said.

"And we're already starting to see that people in the medical community in Canada are being really creative. People in Health Canada are trying to be as creative as they can. Everybody is thinking outside the box."

'We know that some of us will go down. We've had very serious talks within our department about what to do for our colleagues who can't work or our colleagues who might become very sick or die.' - Dr. Tarek Loubani, London Health Services Centre

So far, Loubani says they have printed 200 masks. His immediate plan is to meet the needs of his colleagues at the London Health Sciences Centre, then expand it to cover the rest of the city.

After that, he says, he'll make them available to any health-care providers that need them.

He says he hopes to connect with other people across the country with access to 3D printers and the right expertise to pitch in

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"If anybody is short on these face masks, as we expect, or if they anticipate being short, we are open to helping anybody anywhere in Canada to set up and manufacture their own," he said. 

"We think we can recruit a lot of very intelligent, very hardworking people with 3D printers and make sure that they create devices that are up to standard."

In the meantime, he says health-care workers in Canada are coming together — and bracing for the worst.

 

"We know that some of us will go down. We've had very serious talks within our department about what to do for our colleagues who can't work or our colleagues who might become very sick or die. And it's definitely a sobering thought, but one that, incredibly, you don't see any hesitation about," he said.

"Everybody feels like they have something to contribute and they want to contribute. And that's a moment of pride for me as a Canadian physician."


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview with Dr. Tarek Loubani produced by Jeanne Armstrong.