Paste your Google Webmaster Tools verification code here

3D Printing Medical Supplies in Gaza

The magazine Logic recently sat down for a fascinating (and quite wide ranging) interview with Dr. Tarek Loubani. During this interview, Dr. Loubani discussed his work funneling, and often smuggling, medical supplies into Israeli-occupied Gaza. 3D printing is helping bring much needed relief to the Palestinians living there.

To quote the interview’s introduction: “Dr. Tarek Loubani thinks it’s [expletive deleted] up that doctors and nurses have to pay $200 for a stethoscope that can be 3D-printed for $3. The Palestinian-Canadian doctor is an emergency room physician and professor based in London, Ontario, where he has set up a factory in his basement to print more affordable stethoscopes. What’s merely irritating in Ontario presents a more serious barrier to care in Gaza, where Loubani has been taking regular trips since 2011 and where the Israeli and Egyptian blockade ensures that he rarely has access to basic medical equipment like gauze and plastic gloves when he’s there. Reliable access to more expensive equipment is out of the question.”

Due to these horrific circumstances brought about by the occupation, Dr. Loubani “founded the Glia Project to work on the stethoscope problem and the blockade problem at the same time: in the same way drug manufacturers copy brand-name drugs and sell them for less as generics, the Glia Project makes generics of medical hardware. Loubani is also distributing the means of producing that hardware, 3D printers, and training Canadian medical students and regular Gazans to print medical equipment themselves.”

To develop and produce these 3D printed devices, the Glia Project, according to Loubani, “create the designs using FreeCAD, a free/open source CAD software program.” Loubani has six 3D printers running in his basement, “and a few tables where packages for each stethoscope can be quality-checked. A full print job produces enough parts to make four stethoscopes and that takes fifteen hours. In other words, the Glia Project produces four stethoscopes every fifteen hours.”

For the 3D printers the Glia Project are using in Gaza, they are using ABS plastic for the machines’ filament. “Gaza actually has 100 percent recycle rate because no plastic is allowed in.”

The Glia Project has 20 3D printers at their headquarters in Gaza. As Loubani explains, there are two reasons for this: “one is that we want to promote the culture. The other is that we’re going to get bombed at some point. When that happens, if we are the only place that has all the 3D-printing knowledge or equipment, then we’re going to set back the entire movement by two or three years. The more we hoard the knowledge or hoard the equipment, the worse it will be. As it is, when our offices eventually do get bombed, we’ll probably only be set back a year. If somebody dies, obviously it will be even worse. So, while we have twenty printers of our own, we’ve “birthed” approximately thirty-five more by printing parts for them. It’s easier for people to get up and running if we give them some parts to start, kind of like a sourdough starter. But what’s really cool is that printers have started showing up that we had nothing to do with.”

Loubani outlines his vision: “The goal is to get a 3D printer into every high school in Gaza within the next five to ten years. For us to have as many 3D printers as they have in the Netherlands per capita would mean having around two thousand printers. And Gaza needs more printers than the Netherlands because they’re making essential stuff. For example, if your light switch breaks in the Netherlands, it’s usually cheaper and easier to go buy it at the hardware store. In Gaza, these breakages are permanent. When you go to somebody’s house and the light switch is broken, it’s always going to be broken. Introducing 3D printing to that culture is empowering repair culture.”

Finally: “If I were to distribute a stethoscope [produced using traditional manufacturing methods and distribution] to each doctor in Gaza — that’s 4,000 doctors — that would be $200 per stethoscope, but probably more like $350 by the time you got them into Gaza because of the corruption, the problems with the Israelis, and so on. You’re talking about $350 times 4,000 people. That’s really serious cash. And for what? For stethoscopes. Whereas 4,000 3D-printed stethoscopes — even with packaging, distribution, training, and everything — are $5 a pop. For $20,000, you can kickstart an entire medical system. That’s nothing.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of Logic Magazine, The Glia Project, and Dr. Tarek Loubani

Share Button