At the height of lockdown in 2020, the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) did something that at first glance, was unusual but on reflection was in keeping with the mandate of an NPO whose 2500 members’ primary concern is the safe and efficient use of water – a substance without which life is not possible.
“We all knew about the shortage of personal protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic. N95 masks were in particular short supply,” WISA CEO Dr Lester Goldman explains.
PPE companies were just not geared up to provide their products in the volumes needed, but the 3D printing hobbyist groups had a solution. They could print PPE, but they were not an NPO and were not equipped to manage fund donations.
“I’m a 3D printing enthusiast myself,” explains WISA Events Manager Jaco Seaman. “So the Board agreed that WISA could use its platforms and connections to call for donations for filament so that PPE equipment could be printed, and to transparently manage any funds that were donated.”
The hobbyists were not in a position to manage the donations, so WISA stepped in and provided its administrative support so that the funds could be disbursed.
The result was a reusable 3D printed mask with space for a filter that could be made from a small piece of an N95 mask. The project was a success with thousands of masks made and distributed. And, as it turns out, there was an additional unexpected result.
For big organisations such as WISA Patron Member Grundfos, there is a certain inertia between the intent to help, and the go-ahead to do so.
“We saw the appeal and knew that we wanted to get behind it,” explains Peter Mashaba, SSA Facilities Supervisor for Grundfos South Africa. “So we applied for funding from the Grundfos Foundation in Denmark and were really excited when we heard that an amount of R270 000 had been allocated.”
But, by then the need for the 3D printed masks had run its course so WISA and Grundfos set out to find another life-giving project into which the money could be channelled.
“We assessed a number of projects, and the one that we decided to support is the AfriSpacer – a simple, low-cost attachment for a plastic bottle which can be used with a traditional asthma inhaler to increase its effectiveness,” Mashaba says. “It ties with the intent of the donation – providing funds that will save lives, particularly during the Covid 19 pandemic.”
The need is huge – at 15,000 lives lost each year, South Africa has one of the highest asthma death rates in the world. As many as 80% could be prevented with better treatment and access to medicine.
The AfriSpacer attaches to one end of a plastic bottle, with the patient’s inhaler attached to the other end. Medication is pumped from the inhaler into the empty chamber of the bottle and the patient breathes it in, allowing the medication to reach the lungs without spraying micro droplets into the air. A key feature of the AfriSpacer is its one-way valve system – the AfriValve – developed by Impulse Biomedical, which can be washed and reused, making it a safe, effective and durable product on a par with more costly commercial asthma spacers.
The AfriSpacers are being distributed by the Allergy Foundation South Africa (AFSA), whose CEO Prof Michael Levin is Head of Allergy at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.
“We’ve been using the spacers for more than 20 years, but it was only recently that an affordable and scaleable solution was developed,” Levin says. “Then the challenge became finding the funds to produce them at the scale we need – which is where the very generous donation from Grundfos is going to make such a difference.”
Notes for media
More info on the original spacer project: https://www.allergyfoundation.co.za/innovative-bottle-spacers-for-asthma-spread-across-the-country/; https://www.allergyfoundation.co.za/spacer-project-update/
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The Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) is an NPO which is the voice of the water sector in Southern Africa, uniting individuals, government, organisations and experts from a wide range of disciplines with a passion for water in a water-scarce region