When South Africa’s strict lockdown began on 27 March 2020, COVID-19 had reached nearly every country and the world faced a shortage of personal protective equipment. Netcare 911 issued a call to the 3D printing community to produce head rings for face shields used by the healthcare sector. A cross disciplinary team of engineers from Wits’ Digital Incubator at the Tshimologong Precinct, the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering (MIA) along with the Transnet Centre of Systems Engineering (TCSE) and the Transnet Matlafatšo Centre (TMC) immediately joined forces to respond. Within days they had experimented with materials and designs and found an answer that surpassed 3D printed head rings. Using available PVC sheeting, the team opted to laser-cut face shields, thus dramatically reducing production time and cost, and increasing manufacturing speed. The Wits’ COVID-19 Face Shield Fund enabled the team to produce up to 500 face shields per day to meet the needs of Wit’s academic teaching hospitals. The MRC/Wits-Agincourt Research Unit was among the grateful recipients of this exceptional initiative, receiving a donation of 1500 face shields to distribute to staff at the 3 hospitals and 40 clinics in the Bushbuckridge district of Mpumalanga Province. The face shields were flat packed making it compact to transport from Johannesburg to Bushbuckridge by car and an instruction manual on how to assemble the face shield was provided. Best of all, the face shield is made with durability in mind, and can be sanitised with bleach or alcohol for reuse.

Professor Xavier Gomez-Olivé (left) collecting face shields donated to the MRC/Wits-Agincourt Unit, for the Bushbuckridge hospitals and clinics

Dr Jacques du Toit (left) and Matikwana Hospital CEO, Mr Marondo Malaza (right) assembling their face shields.

Left to right: Dr Jacques du Toit; Tintswalo Hospital CEO, Ms Merriam Moyimane; and Mapulaneng Hospital Clinical Manager, Mr Ndhlovu demonstrating the use of face shields with face masks.