In 2013, there were approximately 334 natural disasters around the world, resulting in more than 100,000 related deaths. Disasters of this kind result in breakdowns in the supply chain when affected countries most badly need access to goods and services. In addition to this logistical constraint, humanitarian relief efforts must also contend with financial challenges, and determining need in a short period of time with limited communication on the ground. Efficiency and effectiveness is not maximized, even though it can mean the difference between life and death. However, one organization is trying to transform emergency relief by making supplies locally instead of relying on insufficient supply chains.
The 2010 earthquake in Haiti brought the country to a halt and resulted in thousands of deaths and ruined infrastructure. In 2015, an organization called Field Ready saw an opportunity to test an idea in Haiti with a three-month pilot project applying smaller and faster manufacturing approaches using 3D printers. Field Ready is using a grant provided by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund to partner with Haiti Communitere and Ti Kay Haiti to focus on the manufacture of medical disposables using small 3D printers. Although their focus in the pilot is on simple medical disposables, they hope to one day manufacture almost anything that is needed in remote or low-resource disasters. Field Ready also trains local inhabitants in how to design for and use 3D printers, so they can create their own solutions to their problems. Field Ready’s aim to leave the technology behind to continue to assist the community after they depart.
Cutting Medical Costs
The three-month pilot in Haiti was only recently completed, but preliminary results are impressive. Field Ready test manufactured multiple designs of umbilical clamps used by midwives and birth attendants, and manufactured over 50 clamps, a one month supply, for a local clinic. They also printed a unique prototype prosthetic hand, items to repair and improve the printers, butterfly needle holders, screwdrivers, pipe clamps, and bottles. They assisted about 60 medical patients and a dozen medical workers, and delivered a basic training curriculum that taught 16 people how to design items and use the printers. Field Ready says that their aim is to cut procurement costs by 50% in a humanitarian response and limit transport to a single trip to reduce time and risk. Ultimately, their goal is to provide a more direct, effective, immediate intervention when it is most needed.
Like any new technology, there are more details to work out and more testing to be done. For instance, Field Ready is working on addressing the problem of lack of electricity by testing more advanced printers that run on solar power. It is also hoped that the technology will become more mature, sustainable, and cost-effective in the coming years. For now, the trial in Haiti has demonstrated that useful medical supplies can be made efficiently on the ground. Field Ready is working on expanding its efforts to replicate this approach in other countries and across other sectors. Local 3D printing presents an opportunity to provide supplies in areas where resources are limited. Most importantly, Field Ready places a priority on teaching locals how to make the products they need and develop capacity so that they can devise their own solutions in the event of an emergency.