As the outbreak of the Coronavirus keeps spreading and affecting more and more people, the pressure on the healthcare systems and medical professionals is growing by the minute. In every country the intensive care units are getting flooded with new patients. This results, for example, in less and less beds where patients of the Coronavirus can be hooked to a ventilator and creates a surge on medical equipment. However, there are always great initiatives coming in the harshest of times, even now.
A big problem in most intensive care units (ICU) is the lack of ventilators for all the patients. To increase the possible ICU beds for patients, there should be a ventilator on every bed, but not all hospitals have enough ventilators in stock to equip all the beds.
In Italy, one of the hardest hit countries in the world, there was a shortage of valves for the ventilator. The cost of thousands of dollars apiece made it a impossible to get enough in short time for the hospitals in Brescia. 3D printer company FabLab scanned the part of the respirator, the valve, and started 3D printing the part. Saving lives directly by ensuring more ventilators are ready to be used with the valves.
Even though they needed to by-pass the original manufacturer in this case of life and death, it does show the possibilities of a 3D printer in healthcare. Instead of ordering the valves, which need to be made, paid and shipped, losing really valuable time in the battle against the corona virus, a 3D printer inside the medical facility can make the difference between life and death.
3D printing, which has already been used in the medical field for creating custom, affordable prosthetics to printing surgical tools, could be key to making ventilators available everywhere. And of course there are a lot of things to consider before starting 3D printing in a medical facility. The fact that these valves are used for medical purposes means they also need to be created in clean environments, handled only with gloves, and sterilized—not something anyone with a 3D printer can do.
But if a 3D printer will save just one life in this pandemic, or in any other way, it is worth it.