Picture: Screenshot
Picture: Screenshot

UCT engineers invent face shield using household items

By IOL Tech reporter Time of article published Jun 12, 2020

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Associate Professor Sudesh Sivarasu and his team of biomedical engineers at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have joined forces and created a face shield that can be made easily with household items.

The ViZAR is just one of the team’s COVID-19 solutions to have been approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority.

It acts as a first line of defence between the user and any infectious and airborne particles as well as offers protection against harmful aerosols. It also prevents possible cross-contamination from users touching their faces.

The ViZAR was designed by postgraduate researcher Matthew Trusler, from the Division of Biomedical Engineering, in collaboration with Sivarasu. Dr Stephen Roche of the UCT Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Professor Salome Maswime and Dr Tracey Adams of the UCT Division of Global Surgery, and Saberi Marais from UCT Research Contracts & Innovation all played a part in the proudly African creation.

“The UCT ViZAR project started off as a response to the overwhelming need to protect our clinicians and health workers against the tide of COVID-19 infections and quickly turned into an in-depth look at why the current solutions weren’t working. We hope to reach as many South Africans as we can with all of our technologies from the Medical Devices Lab, and this is certainly a step in the right direction,” said Trusler.

The team focused on user-centred features, such as a shield transparent enough to prevent claustrophobia, foam lining along the top of the visor that conforms to the user’s forehead and also established the perfect length and width of elastic to minimise pressure. What made the ViZAR design is the hand-made approach, using products that are easily available to make them more accessible.

Doing this allowed the team to scale their production to the order of a few thousand ViZARs a day.

Since being approved, the team has already manufactured over 13 000 of these ViZARs. They have donated 2 000 ViZARs to Groote Schuur Hospital, 5 000 to the Western Cape Department of Health, and 500 to District Six Community Health Centre. They have promised that more donations will follow.

Making a ViZAR requires materials like an overhead projector transparency, elastic, foam and double-sided tape. All in all, a simplified DIY mask can be made according to the UCT ViZAR specifications with materials costing no more than R10.

African innovators have had to turn their attention to what’s available locally and will have to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. 

“Now that this is a challenge, it’s not a time to buckle to the pressure, but rather to be creative and innovative in the way we approach and solve this problem,” said Sivarasu.


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