UCT biomedical engineers create Covid-19 shields from household items

12 June 2020 - 08:00 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
Scientists at the University of Cape Town have created affordable face shields made from household items to help prevent Covid-19. File photo.
Scientists at the University of Cape Town have created affordable face shields made from household items to help prevent Covid-19. File photo.
Image: ESA ALEXANDER

A University of Cape Town (UCT) professor and his team of biomedical engineers have created face shields made from household items to help prevent Covid-19.

“The ViZAR is among the first of the team’s Covid-19 solutions to have been approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority,” said the university in a statement.

“It acts as a first line of defence between the user and any infectious, airborne particles, offers protection against harmful aerosols, and prevents possible cross-contamination from users touching their faces.”

According to the institution, the shield was designed by postgraduate researcher Matthew Trusler in collaboration with Prof Sudesh Sivarasu from the division of biomedical engineering, Dr Stephen Roche of the UCT division of orthopaedic surgery, Prof Salome Maswime and Dr Tracey Adams of the UCT division of global surgery, and Saberi Marais from UCT research contracts and innovation.

“The UCT ViZAR project started off as a response to the overwhelming need to protect our clinicians and health workers against the tide of Covid-19 infections and quickly turned into an in-depth look at why the current solutions weren’t working,” said Trusler.

“We hope to reach as many South Africans as we can with all of our technologies from the Medical Devices Lab, and this is certainly a step in the right direction.”

According to the university, the shield is transparent enough to prevent claustrophobia. It has foam lining along the top of the visor that conforms to the user’s forehead.

“An important aspect of the ViZAR design is that for manufacture the UCT team opted for a hand-made approach, using products that are easily available to make them more accessible. This allowed the team to scale their production to the order of a few thousand ViZARs a day, facilitating job creation through a sustainable and local supply chain.”

The team has manufactured over 13,000 of these ViZARs and with funding they received they were able to donate 2,000 to Groote Schuur Hospital, 5,000 to the Western Cape department of health, and 500 to the District Six community health centre.

They are in the process of making another 20,000 shields - and hope to raise funds to create 100,000 more in the coming months.

“Making a ViZAR requires materials like an overhead projector transparency, elastic, foam and double-sided tape. All in all, a simplified DIY mask can be made according to the UCT ViZAR specifications with materials costing no more than R10,” said Sivarasu.

“Our team’s philosophy has been to collaborate closely with other innovators in an effort to create technologies that are appropriate to our African context.”


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