Day 6

Gaza's health-care system further shaken by destruction of 3D-printed medical devices company: doctor

Tashkeel3D, which produces stethoscopes and tourniquets, was destroyed in an airstrike on Tuesday. London, Ont.-based physician Dr. Tarek Loubani says that will strain an already fraught situation.

Tashkeel3D, which produces stethoscopes and tourniquets, was destroyed in an airstrike on Tuesday

Mohammed Abu Matar stands on the rubble of Kuhail building, where his company Tashkeel3D was based. The office was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike on May 18. (Submitted by Mohammed Abu Matar)

Mohammed Abu Matar says he never expected the civilian office building housing his 3D-printing startup would be destroyed by rocket fire.

"I was shocked … I have a lot of memories there," Abu Matar, founder of Tashkeel3D, said by phone from Gaza.

For years, his company has been producing 3D-printed medical supplies, including tourniquets and stethoscopes, for hospitals and health clinics in the region, which has been living under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since 2007. 

On Tuesday, the startup's office, located in the Kuhail building — which also contained libraries and education centres belonging to the Islamic University — was levelled by a pre-dawn Israeli airstrike, according to The Associated Press. No deaths or injuries were reported.

With the loss of Tashkeel3D, Dr. Tarek Loubani, an ER physician in London, Ont., says it makes the already "fraught and problematic" challenge of providing health care to residents of Gaza more difficult.

With no ability to import medical supplies into Gaza, local production of equipment is crucial, he adds.

Abu Matar holds a 3D-printed medical device over the rubble of his former office building. Tashkeel3D produces 3D-printed equipment for hospitals and health clinics in Gaza. (Submitted by Mohammed Abu Matar)

"They [Tashkeel3D] were making ventilators in a place where you need innovation and a place where you need creativity. They were creative and brilliant. They are now gone," said Loubani, who has worked in Gaza.

"This is a setback for medical care in Gaza for years to come."

A ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, began in the early hours of Friday morning following 11 days of violent conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants. At least 248 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes, including 66 children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Twelve people in Israel, including a five-year-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and a soldier, have been killed in rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. 

It's unknown if Tashkeel3D's building was targeted deliberately. Speaking with As It Happens host Carol Off on Wednesday, Michael Freeman, policy adviser to Israel's minister of foreign affairs, said "we do everything we can to only target the Hamas terrorists. But Hamas terrorists are embedding themselves within the civilian population."

In a response provided to Vice News' Motherboard, a spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces said they would look into the airstrike that toppled the Kuhail building. 

Health-care system suffering

Due to limitations on imports, the first 3D printer in Gaza was pieced together by Abu Matar with parts made in the 1980s. 

His company has been turning out medical supplies since 2015. Most recently, he says he partnered with Doctors Without Borders to 3D print face masks for burn victims, and they have also produced face shields during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tashkeel3D is supported, in part, by Glia, a Canada-based project that seeks to provide medical supplies to impoverished locations around the world, of which Loubani is a member.

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

Conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants has made an already tenuous situation, with the pandemic, worse. Before the conflict began, only two per cent of Gazans received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) official. Vaccine uptake has since slowed to a halt, with people fearing for their safety.

"The extent and the absolute devastation of some of the infrastructure involved in delivering health care" during the recent conflict is more serious than before, said Loubani.

Hospitals in Gaza have been overwhelmed by waves of dead and wounded from Israel's bombardment. Vital medications, as well as electricity, are also running short.

Israeli attacks have damaged 18 hospitals and health-care centres, according to the WHO. Three health clinics have been levelled, including a trauma and burn centre run by Doctors Without Borders, The Associated Press reported.

WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said during a virtual briefing that the conflict risked "overwhelming" the health-care facilities, and called for immediate access to health supplies and personnel.

"It's a situation in which delivering care to a very downtrodden, difficult population is complicated by a lack of access to basic materials and a lack of ability to move patients from one place to another if they need extra care," Loubani said.

WATCH | CBC's Margaret Evans says the destruction in Gaza is 'enormous'

Level of damage in Gaza 'enormous,' CBC reporter says

1 year ago
Duration 5:30
As Palestinians across the region celebrate the ceasefire declaration between Israel and Hamas, the CBC's Margaret Evans is reporting from Gaza. She says the air campaign between the two sides prevented people in Gaza from mourning their dead properly. It also resulted in enormous damage on the ground.

'I still have my vision and my message'

Despite the destruction of his lab, Abu Matar says he is determined to begin producing equipment as soon as possible. 

He has already reached out to people he has sold 3D printers to, offering to buy them back, and others who can source the needed plastic filament, in order to start the company back up.

"Until now, I make calls to go to collect anything — any equipment, all the parts, any motors, anything I can use to rebuild," he said.

"I am very sad, and on the other side, I have a willingness and belief to start again, because that equipment and tools and it's all gone — but I still have my vision and my message."

Written by Jason Vermes with files from The Associated Press and Reuters. Interview with Dr. Tarek Loubani produced by Pedro Sanchez.