Durban brothers tackle Covid-19 with pop-up ICUs, 3D-printed shields

05 April 2020 - 00:00
The government has not ruled out the possibility of using these types of solutions should the need arise.
Image: 123RF / maridav The government has not ruled out the possibility of using these types of solutions should the need arise.

From a sprawling pop-up hospital and a fully equipped intensive-care unit (ICU) in a box, to converted snorkelling masks, 3D-printed face shields and self-sanitising surfaces, inventive South Africans are pulling out all the stops in the Covid-19 fight.

China built a 1,000-bed hospital in 10 days, and Durban brothers Matthew and Gary Bower say they can do the same — albeit on a smaller scale.

The event infrastructure specialists said it would take them just 12 days to erect a 7,500m² temporary hospital with 350 isolation units.

“We have all our planning in place to provide temporary hospital or medical facilities to cater for large numbers of patients when and if the need arises,” said Matthew Bower.

He and his team at Extreme Events have already designed the structure. “We would lay out a flooring system. and on top of that erect our A-frame marquee tents. Inside that we will have specially designed isolation units, which have been developed at our warehouse.”

Another medical facility than can be assembled quickly is the Iculate, an ICU designed by EOH Group subsidiary Dihlase.

“It is effectively a mobile medical ward that complies to international isolation ward and ICU standards,” said EOH CEO Stephen van Coller.

“It can be transported by truck like a normal container. It is designed as a simple 'plug and play' solution to get an isolated medical ward up and running in no time.”

The government has not ruled out the possibility of using these types of solutions should the need arise.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize told the Sunday Times: “Anything where we can get more space, we will use it when the need arises. If there is need for temporary structures and these are what are available, and the only way out, we will use it.”

On a smaller scale, front line medics are turning to snorkelling masks and 3D-printed face shields.

in numbers

• 2 - Size options available for a container isolation unit. It can be 12m x 2.4m or 6m x 2.4m

• 12 - Days to assemble a hospital to accommodate 350 people in isolation units

Clint Voigt, owner of an online sporting goods store, said doctors, paramedics, police and friends had approached him for snorkelling masks amid a shortage of personal protective equipment.

An Umhlanga doctor who bought 30 is converting them and adding air filters for his staff. “I have also had a donation of 100 masks which were not suitable for diving due to a design flaw but can be modified,” said the doctor, who did not want to be named.

“These masks are not for normal use. but are especially for procedures such as intubating or suctioning a patient when huge amounts of virus are shed and the doctors and nurses are up close.”

A full-face snorkelling mask adapted by Orca Industries' Duncan Pattenden, aerospace designer Robert Miller and Dr Adrian Wentzel is being registered after safety testing at the University of Cape Town and the New Somerset Hospital in Cape Town.

Dr Anthony Allwood, an anaesthetist and intensive care practitioner in the Western Cape, said front line doctors had been concerned for weeks about how to protect themselves. “What we are observing from around the world is that full hazmat protective gear seems to be giving better protection in ICUs around the world.”

In the absence of such equipment in SA, medics are opting for 3D-printed face shields. The 3D Printing Store in Centurion made 5,000 this week, and CEO Paul Cronje said the 3D-printing community throughout the country had come on board.

Just before the coronavirus crisis hit, Wits University mechanical engineering PhD student Michael Lucas scooped an international award for his self-sanitising surface coating for hospitals.