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Digital space for migrants supplies 3D-printed face shields to hospitals treating COVID-19 cases in Djibouti

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Digital space for migrants supplies 3D-printed face shields to hospitals treating COVID-19 cases in Djibouti

23 April 2020
Doctors from Hôpital Régional d'Arta in Djibouti wearing 3D-printed face shields.
Doctors from Hôpital Régional d'Arta in Djibouti wearing 3D-printed face shields.

A digital training space set up for young migrants has joined the COVID-19 response in Djibouti, supplying protective face shields to health workers after the first case of the virus was detected in the country on 18 March.  

The team is running a space launched by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and partners Terre des Hommes and the University of Djibouti. There, digital machines – like 3D printers and laser cutters – are deployed to make medical face shields for the government at a time of critical shortage. Twenty-two prototype plastic face shields have been reviewed by medical staff in two hospitals. An order has been placed for 300 more.

“Innovative approaches to dealing with the COVID-19 response are essential and that’s what we’re seeing in Djibouti with protective face shields being produced with the help of a digital training space for migrants set up by IOM,” said Stéphanie Daviot, IOM Chief of Mission in Djibouti.

The digital training centre is funded by the IOM Development Fund. It was established last year to provide computer literacy and digital fabrication skills to at-risk youth, aged 14-24, on the move. Activities stopped when a countrywide confinement order was announced on 23 March to prevent the virus spreading. IOM seized the chance to respond to the urgent need for protective medical equipment using the available 3D printers to create face shields for health workers treating cases without protection.

Digital fabrication labs or ‘fab labs’ and maker spaces are gaining attention in efforts to halt the pandemic by filling gaps and supplying medical equipment at a time of unprecedented shortage and strain on health systems. Founded on openness, these communities share software, knowledge and resources, reinforcing a united approach is the only way to defeat the virus.  

Beyleh Daher, who graduated from the University of Djibouti only a few years ago in engineering, is leading the initiative and heads up the digital space for IOM. It is a first for Daher to apply his skills in an emergency while working alongside health professionals.

“When COVID-19 struck Djibouti, we could see needs were high and people were at risk. We had these machines sitting there so I thought we must be able to use them to help. It is brilliant to work with doctors and nurses to test a life-saving product we made on a 3D printer,” said Daher. 

“This shows how creative digital spaces can be put to use for collective good. We offer opportunities to young people who have not had access to formal education, are on the streets and at risk of many dangers, to learn a vocation and find ways to respond to challenges they and others face. We hope to open our doors again soon to support these young people,” he added. 

Due to its location, Djibouti is a major transit point for Africans fleeing conflict, poverty and the effects of climate change. As well as facing development challenges, the country houses large numbers of migrants and refugees, people extremely vulnerable to the virus and its impact. 

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Djibouti stands at around 370, with two deaths reported. IOM is scaling up operations nationally and globally to minimize damage and suffering caused by the pandemic. 

Espace Créatif is a member of the Resilience Collective, a network of innovative, digital creative spaces designed to provide opportunities and protection for vulnerable youth on the move and respond collectively to humanitarian challenges with and for young people.