THE BLOG

Can Online Maker Communities Improve Humanitarian Aid?

22/11/2017 13:40 GMT

Humanitarian Makers are exploring how online communities can bring humanitarian hardware prototypes to a new level of excellence. As part of this initiative, members of the public have been invited to download, 3D print, and test a number of devices, including an otoscope, which will be used by earthquake response teams in Nepal to help diagnosis ear, nose, and throat diseases.

In April 2015, the Nepal earthquake caused $10 billion of damaged, killed nearly 9,000 people, and injured almost 22,000. It was the worst natural disaster to strike the country in 80 years. And although 60-80% of humanitarian aid budget is spent on logistics, recipients of that aid are still required to wait months or even years to receive it.

Field Ready, a US-based 501(c)(3) non-governmental, nonprofit organisation is pioneering ways to provide humanitarian relief by transforming logistics and ultimately how aid is provided. As members of the Humanitarian Makers community, they believe that today’s advances in knowledge and technology can be leveraged to meet this gap.

Field Ready’s main activity takes the form of in-country programs, designing and manufacturing humanitarian supply items that can be delivered more quickly and more cheaply than the alternatives. Through this project, they are seeking to scale their activities to solve additional problems through design, as well as to extend the evidence base that this approach is viable in other humanitarian contexts.

To support effective replication of this work at scale, Field Ready are using digital technologies to share open source designs and readily accessible manufacturing techniques so that others can make quality humanitarian supplies where and when they are needed around the world.

The non-profit recently completed trials with three healthcare clinics in Nairobi, Kenya, where designs for humanitarian supplies were improved in the field and used to manufacture items locally. Now they are seeking to engage the global maker community by inviting feedback on their prototypes and open design instructions. These efforts will bring the designs closer to reliable replication by those seeking to use them in humanitarian contexts, where reliability is essential.

The end goal of this aid sourcing concept is to enable NGOs, governments, and other organisations that buy products for humanitarian relief to find, assess, and contract with local manufacturers who can assist in manufacturing these products.

Local manufacturing offers a range of benefits, not just in bypassing the slow and costly international supply chains used in relief but by ensuring economic activity continues on the local market, where additional, long-term employment opportunities may become available.

The capability to make locally will also increase local resilience to future disasters, enabling communities to be more self-sufficient if external supply chains are damaged, which is essential as the risk of climate change-related natural disasters grows.

Nepalese Field Ready engineer Ram Chandra Thapa is the designer behind the 3D printable otoscope that is currently open for public testing. Ram’s initial focus was to 3D print spare parts for machines damaged by the earthquake, but he quickly realised that the same process could be used to tackle Nepal's systemic hospital supply chain problem. Most of Nepal's medical equipment is manufactured in China or India, and local health clinics struggle to purchase anything that is not a bulk item. Ram used an open source prototype by Andrew Wallis as the basis for his design after gaining user feedback from a range of medical practitioners in the UK and Nepal.

Encouraged by the success of the trials so far, Ram and the Field Ready team are now attempting to design other types of plastic medical items, including kidney trays, sharp boxes, forceps and even stethoscopes.

If you’re interested in finding out more about opportunities to help make humanitarian prototypes more reliable for use “in the field” you can visit the Humanitarian Makers otoscope project page.