On March 13, I posted a story about the silver lining in the coronavirus cloud (See re-post below). Despite the enormous pain and suffering millions of people will endure, I continue to believe there will be many good things, in addition to the things I mentioned in the earlier post, which will emerge on the other side. In today’s post, I will highlight some DIY (Do It Yourself) activities happening which will have long term benefits.
Gui Cavalcanti is Founder & Co-Executive Director of Open Source Medical Supplies in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mr. Cavalcanti has a background in robotics and has been working on creating robust, low-cost fluidic robots which can operate in environments as extreme as deep water, outer space, and everything in between. Over the past couple of months he stopped building robots due to a Covid-19-based global supply chain failure which stopped the supply of parts needed to build them.
Mr. Cavalcanti realized the world would soon face the same supply chain situation for medical equipment and supplies. He founded a Facebook group to collect open source medical supply designs and document them so local communities could fabricate their own medical supplies. Within less than three weeks, the Facebook group had grown to 64,000 people from all over the world. In addition, 460 dedicated volunteers jumped on board helping write an 80+ page Open Source Medical Supply Guide and a Local Response Guide to help communities self-organize. The DIY group produced more than 280,000 medical supply items and delivered them to healthcare institutions all over the globe.
You can visit the Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies group on Facebook and see the amazing things the group is doing. One person uploaded a detailed instruction guide on how to make vented masks starting with cutting cardboard pieces from a used cereal box. Rod, a local yet internationally experienced fabric and apparel designer, engineered and spearheaded the first production cutting run for an additional 230 hoods and gowns. Another group is making powered, air-purifying respirators (PAPR) used to safeguard healthcare workers. The DIY group is doing remarkable things.
One of the most pressing shortages facing hospitals is a lack of ventilators. These machines keep patients breathing when they can no longer breath on their own. The media has widely reported ventilators cost around $30,000 or more. A rapidly assembled team of volunteer engineers, physicians, computer scientists, and others, centered at MIT, has developed a safe, inexpensive alternative for emergency use. MIT is going to post the free detailed plans for an emergency ventilator which can be built quickly around the world at a cost of $100.
Part of the silver lining is the revelation of the dependence on a non-U.S. supply chain and the cost of critical healthcare supplies and equipment. Why does a ventilator cost $30,000? Because medical equipment companies can charge that much. These companies are very profitable. They should be profitable, but how profitable? Is there enough competition? Why is the supply chain broken? Because companies outsourced to China to shave pennies off the cost of production. The silver lining is these issues will get significant focus on the other side of the pandemic. The results will be positive and help prepare for the next pandemic and also lower the cost of medical equipment.