Face Shields Defend Against COVID-19

Hospitals in northern Uganda are woefully under-equipped to fight COVID-19. Most personnel work on the frontlines in public hospitals without any personal protective equipment. An insufficient number of disposable medical masks are the staff’s only protection as they treat patients.

Paige Balcom and Peter Okwoko are co-founders of Takataka Plastics, a social impact enterprise that is conducting research on plastic products marketable to builders and do-it-yourself homeowners in Uganda. Takataka’s engineers are designing and testing various building materials made from Uganda’s plastic waste. The Market Project provides business mentoring as Takataka Plastics explores how to create jobs and recycle the plastic waste that is abundant in Uganda.

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When Uganda in April announced its first cases of COVID-19, families, businesses, schools and public services were put on high alert. With the lockdown and heightened concern about the spread of coronavirus in a low-resourced region, Takataka’s engineers pivoted from researching building materials to designing much-needed face shields made from recycled plastic. Personnel and doctors at the local hospital were brought into the iterative design process.

The face shields are made from a simple but effective design. At Takataka’s workshop in Gulu, equipment from Plasticpreneur in Austria is used to shred the plastic waste, melt it, and then inject melted plastic into metal molds. The plastic braces are then assembled with elastic bands and the transparent shield. Production is expected to be at 150 per day by early June.

The Takataka workforce includes those who sort and wash plastic waste, and others who shred the plastic and then inject the plastic into molds. In this initial phase, we anticipate creating 17 jobs, 12 of which are offered to young adults who live and work on the street. With the current curfew and other lockdown restrictions, these youths have been hit especially hard by the pandemic.

In partnership with other care organizations, the youth are provided shelter and meals. The Market Project has arranged for Takataka workers to participate in a weekly trauma care group. Through this group, these young adults are better able to understand how the hardships of their life, the chronic poverty, and abuse within the home have affected them.

The need is great. According to the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics, there are an estimated 927 healthcare clinics and hospitals in the Northern Region. While the actual number of healthcare workers is not readily available, we estimate approximately 12,000 healthcare professionals work in these facilities and could benefit from this equipment.

Government health facilities in Uganda currently have no funds for face shields. Private hospitals have funding, but PPE is in short supply or not available. Currently there are no producers of face shields in Northern Uganda. Takataka is providing effective, reusable face shields that will be distributed in government (public) hospitals and clinics in Gulu District.

We are getting requests from other parts of Uganda as well. If these initial efforts are successful, we will scale up our production further.

Partner with us to protect front-line medical workers in Uganda.

Through your support, you will also provide life-sustaining work for homeless youths and put plastic waste to good use.

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