A team of engineers from Wits university have come together to produce personal protective equipment and medical supplies to help fight the Coronavirus pandemic.

A team of engineers from Wits University have developed and produced faces shields which they have donated to essential service workers during South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown. Close to 500 shields, 20 to Wits Protection Services, 120 to the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, 200 to Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital and 200 to the Rahima Moosa Hospital have been donated by the engineers. The project started in response to a call for assistance with the shortage of protective gear for healthcare workers by a local emergency services group, Netcare911.  

Volunteers washing the shield components after cutting to clean off the corrosive residue formed. Photo: Provided.

Randall Paton, senior lecturer at the school of mechanical, industrial & aeronautical engineering (MIA), told Wits Vuvuzela, “We are hoping to deliver 200 [face shields] each to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and Helen Joseph Hospital,” on Wednesday, April 8. 

Paton adds, “We are also planning to provide [face shields] to the custodial staff that are cleaning around Wits’ spaces, especially those where our medical students are working.”

Tshwarela Kolokoto, a doctoral student at the school of chemistry and a project volunteer, said, “I chose to be part of this initiative to give back and do some community service. To help fight against Covid-19, and most importantly protect our healthcare workers who are risking their lives on a daily basis for the people of South Africa.”

Khanani Machumele, a second-year doctoral student in medicinal chemistry, volunteers her time to the project by washing off the residue caused by laser cutting from the face shields. “Hundreds of thousands of people have died from this virus and my hope is that my small contribution may help in the overall fight against coronavirus. I may not [have] millions of rands to donate but I can donate my time,” Machumele said. 

The engineers are also looking at producing masks that prevent the inhalation of infected spray and ventilator equipment. According to Professor Robert Reid, head of the school of MIA, “These pieces of healthcare equipment are still under development and no ‘production items’ have been manufactured yet.”

Reid says that the face shields project is a result of a concerted effort from volunteers across various academic disciplines at Wits.  The materials used for the face shields came from leftover material from a project the school ran a few years ago.

Apart from the core team from MIA, teams from the Tshimologong precinct and a team from electrical and information engineering are also participating in the project. Tshimologong is a digital innovation hub in Braamfontein. 

In terms of monetary support, “the project has been funded entirely through donation,” said Reid. A statement released by Wits on Monday, April 6, said that, “Over R100 000 has been raised for this initiative”. 

“A call for funding assistance has been put out by the university, we hope to get good funding to allow us to purchase more materials for manufacture,” Reid said. Click here if you would like to contribute to this project. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Face shields produced by team of engineers at Wits. Photo: File