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DIT Design Studio: Innovation for COVID-19 Preparedness in Tanzania

By Julia Jenjezwa and John Msumba, PhD

Tanzania is home to over 60 million people. Its largest city, Dar es Salaam, is home to five million people—a densely populated and vibrant port city.

Located within this city, inside one of its many universities, is our country’s premier invention education design studio—the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT) Design Studio—a space dedicated to student innovation that has become a hub for COVID-19 preparedness and response within our communities.

I am Julia Jenjezwa, and it is my job to oversee the work of the DIT Design Studio. I work with my colleague and co-blogger, Dr. John Msumba, DIT Lecturer and Head of the Industrial Liaison and Career Guidance Department, to guide students in their work.

The DIT Design Studio was inspired by Rice University’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) in Houston, Texas—our partners in supporting invention education in Tanzania. Together we opened the studio in 2019 with generous support from the Lemelson Foundation.

The studio’s creative space gives students an opportunity to perform hands-on design and prototyping using 3D printers, laser cutters, other supplies and resources available in the studio. The studio is being used during this time to design and test prototypes of biomedical engineering solutions to address the challenges of COVID-19 in Tanzania.

The Designs

Before COVID-19 cases were reported in Tanzania, our design studio staff began to look at what other innovation hubs were doing in response to the virus around the world. We also spoke to clinicians in hospitals around Dar es Salaam to find out firsthand what specific needs they had. We found that the need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was universal, and it became our first focus.

Face shields. From the available PPE designs shared by the open source communities worldwide, we began exploring face shield designs and worked with our clinician partners to make necessary improvements. Ultimately, we created a design that met their needs and that features a reusable frame design to save resources. We are continuing to think of improvements to the design as we ready it for mass production.

While working on our 3D printed face-shield prototypes, we happily learned that Dar es Salaam is home to a thriving maker community, a home-grown movement of hobbyists interested in the creative pursuits of engineering and making useful objects. Named the Dar es Salaam 3D printing community, this group of makers, brought together by the Human Innovation Development Fund (HDIF), work together to form a coordinated response to PPE supply in Tanzania.

As part of this group, the DIT Design Studio has been able to share designs and expand their reach as the community coordinates demand for face shields all across Tanzania. When the Design Studio staff agreed on a design that we could mass manufacture, members of this community were also instrumental in offering up logistical and human resources assistance, which boosted our production capacity in the absence of our students.

After only a couple of weeks, we were able to create high quality face shields for Tanzania. To date, we have produced and distributed over 2,000 face shields to hospitals and healthcare workers in Tanzania.

Beneficiaries include Amana Hospital, Aga Khan Hospital, Muhimbili National Hospital and healthcare workers as far off as Arusha and Zanzibar. With additional funding, we hope to continue this work.


The efforts of the Design Studio piqued the interest of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which is currently in conversation with DIT to explore ways they can support our efforts. We are extremely proud of our design teams for leading these efforts to make protective equipment for our medical community in Tanzania.

Ultra-violet sanitizing. The teams also have taken steps to establish ultra-violet light (UV) disinfection units required to regularly sanitize PPE. For example, we met with the Muhimbili Hospital Pediatric Oncology department to determine where they could dedicate space suitable for UV disinfection. Then we worked with Rice University Bioengineering faculty member Dr. Rebekah Drezek and graduate student Jackson Coole to determine the correct configuration of lighting and how much PPE could be disinfected in that space. We are currently seeking funding to build out these UV sterilization units for the aforementioned ward and for Amana Hospital, a designated COVID-19 treatment hospital with significant PPE needs.

For rural locations, we are testing options for using sanitation that relies on the sun’s UV light—this will be important in places that may not have a room or financial resources to dedicate to installing UV lighting.

Intubation box. We have also designed an intubation box to be used to protect healthcare workers who must intubate COVID-19 patients. A prototype of this design was donated to Amana Hospital and to the Anesthesia and Critical Care Simulation Laboratory at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS). Both these institutions will be testing the prototypes and will provide us feedback.


Ventilators. In addition, the DIT studio is working on two versions of ventilators. One is that of Rice University’s Apollo BVM ventilator and the other one is being developed by a team of DIT faculty led by Mr. Haji Fimbombaya, a Ph.D. student, under the support of the Design Studio team. The prototype of the first version is under testing. Once the ventilators are constructed, we will invite health professionals from hospitals and the Ministry of Health to come and provide some professional guidance as users for further improvements.

Automatic Hand Washing Machine: Another team of DIT faculty led by engineer Emmanuel Kajange, under the support of the DIT Design Studio, has developed and fabricated an Automatic Hand Washing Machine. This enables a person to wash hands using water and soap without touching the unit. The device senses the hands, dispenses liquid soap, and then, upon putting hands below the water tap, water comes out automatically. While doing all these activities the device will be playing a pre-recorded voice with an education message on COVID-19 and the importance of taking precautions

Informational Resources & Job Aides. At the design studio, not every solution requires equipment or a device—the studios are a hub for ideas, solutions, and innovation regardless of whether or not they involve a piece of hardware. We hope that part of our efforts can focus on gathering a knowledge base that can be used by our medical community. We have plans for procedures and guides to help people learn about making cloth masks, proper procedures for personal and workplace hygiene, and a guide for how to wear masks properly.

Challenges

Like other places, we experience challenges with human resources, funding for our work, and connecting with industry that can take our designs to mass production. We are working on certification processes for our designs.

Still, the level of student innovation and dedication seen at DIT’s design studio offers inspiration daily. We were established to help—specifically in the areas of helping small and sick newborns with our ties to Rice University’s Rice 360° Institute for Global Health and the Newborn Essential Solutions & Technologies (NEST360°) program. This background in meeting the healthcare challenges in Tanzania was easily pivoted to address COVID-19. As envisioned when establishing the design studio, we are using the same invention education fostered by the NEST program to develop both local engineering leaders and solutions to now help our communities during this unusual event.

We would like to express our gratitude to all our supporters, our students, our partner hospitals and clinicians, the Tanzania maker communities, our medical colleagues, industry, and all those helping DIT’s design studio become a premier hub of innovation that can give back to our communities.

Julia Jenjezwa John Msumba, PhD

Rice 360° Institute for Global Health Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology

DIT Design Studio Coordinator Lecturer & Head of the Industrial Liaison and Career Guidance Department



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