April 17 2022
Mauren esquivel

Digital Social Innovation in the production of face shields for health personnel who care for patients with Covid-19 in Honduras

The members of the CAHI Fellows Network actively work at different levels of emergency care related to COVID-19, constantly exchange information and generate initiatives that validate good practices in their contexts, which can be replicated in the region. This text deals with one of them.

Technological development is producing changes in all areas of life. What is known as the industrial revolution and the technological era has transformed the conception of forms of communication, business models and methodologies for the transformation of organizations and their social impact.

The transformation process that digital and technological advances are generating seems to continue accelerating. They are exponential to the extent that their impact and scope are amplified, their costs are reduced and they drive rapid changes in the economic and social spheres.

These processes are occurring not only in the commercial field, but are also being generated in the space of social development, and even in the face of crisis or emergency situations. As new technologies become more accessible, the creative possibilities of applications that generate social value multiply.

This is the case of Honduran national movement Güiran (which in the Lenca indigenous language means town), which was created from the work of volunteers with 3D printers in their homes, who began the production of low-cost face shields to support health professionals.

What began as a modest citizen initiative has become a chain of interactions and collaborations that mobilizes almost 300 people throughout the country in different tasks.

This is not only an example of the application of exponential technologies in the face of a health emergency, generated by the COVID-19 Pandemic, but also a model of social innovation processes, with the collaboration of various social sectors.

It all started with individual initiative

The need became evident, through social networks (mainly FB and TW) and instant messaging services (WhatsApp) alert messages against the coronavirus multiplied.

In Honduras, as in other Central American nations, one of the concerns revolved around the availability, for health workers, of the minimum protective equipment to care for infected patients: face shield, gloves, and uniforms.

Through digital media, individuals with 3D printers began offering their help to produce the face shields.

These were the first steps in a process that would later generate the articulation of other actors. From individuals connected by social networks and instant messaging, it became small groups that coordinated with each other to serve different areas of the city or the country. Then other volunteers appeared, to supply the necessary inputs (raw material) to the producers; later who would be in charge of the assembly and distribution.

Various actors and sectors joined

The organic evolution of this process led to greater coordination and the entry of new actors who, coming from diverse sectors, added value and gave a boost to the production of face shields.

This is how different NGOs began to participate, to give legal figure to the collaboration and offer an institutional platform. Organizations such as Guala (name that in Lenca means hand), dedicated to the production of hand and forearm prostheses through 3D printing, joined the collaboration with other social actors for the organization and formal interaction with other institutions that quickly lent their collaboration. This step has also been key in raising funds through private donations and individuals.

According to Elena Aguilera Murillo, CAHI Fellow, biomedical engineer and co-founder of Guala and who is working as a volunteer for Güiran in charge of logistics in the south central area of ​​San Pedro Sula, this movement “was generated spontaneously, organically and quickly; today we are almost 300 volunteers, many of us have not seen each other's faces, but we coordinate through chat, voice notes and social networks.”

Later added the UNITEC, a university with offices in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba, an institution that has been the management platform for safe-conducts with the Ministry of Health, has provided spaces as collection centers for donations in kind and for the assembly and operation of assembly and disinfection lines for face shields.

Health professionals, mainly biomedical and volunteer doctors, have technically certified the design, the selection of raw materials and the production processes, so that they comply with international standards and are safe for use in health centers, against the current needs and following WHO protocols.

The National Armed Forces also entered the chain, who offer their cooperation in matters of transportation of raw materials between cities, in addition to making their industrial manufacturing workshops available.

Through the voluntary work of all the actors involved, with a high proportion of citizen participation, more than 15 face shields are being distributed in periods of 500 days.

Elena claims that “An emergency brings out the best and the worst, and in this case it has brought out the best, because we are taking advantage of the tools we have, showing that we can work collaboratively remotely, with a highly professional volunteer effort.”

Future development and sustainability

As this initiative progresses, those involved in it begin to envision next steps and seek ways to be sustainable.

An important element is to continue improving the production and information exchange processes, which is possible thanks to the technologies in use and because there is a team thinking exponentially.

The generation of other devices and implements is visualized, such as isolation hoods to be used in hospitals and health centers, and in the medium term of mechanical respirators. Other requirements and possibilities of technological application will arise along the way.

For the future production of respirators, UNITEC will provide its technical support in the prototype development processes, in analysis and verification of their operation within biomedicine laboratories. This generates a research process in which the faculties of engineering and health sciences collaborate.

Regarding the financing of the operation, at the moment it is supported by donations from individuals, support from small and medium-sized companies, and the volunteer work of hundreds of people. For the future, it is expected to mobilize resources from the State, International Cooperation and the private sector.

One of the keys will be the creation of a model that allows us to continue producing and distributing on a large scale and at low costs, generating a return on investment to sustain the initiative not only during the coming months of the emergency against Covid-19, but also in the later years.

Social Innovation and Exponential Technologies

The Güiran movement is an example of how exponential technologies increase the social impact of an organized initiative that seeks to solve a collective problem, in this case associated with the COVID-19 Pandemic. It also shows us the dynamics of social innovation in the organization coordination of various sectors, with creativity and adaptability.

Elena Aguilera Murillo tells us that technology “It has played a fundamental role, because without the technological platforms we would not have been able to advance so quickly and with this effectiveness. Our databases, application notes, donation certificates, communications, all meetings, everything is handled virtually.”

Some of its essential features are:

  • As a process of social innovation, it highlights the participation of all social sectors: the public sector, the private sector and organized civil society. Within the latter, the role of Universities and NGOs stands out.
  • It is a process of collaborative learning and implementation of solutions centered on the human being and with agile methodologies. In the process they have had to generate prototypes, test them and make adjustments, both in the production of face shields and in the assembly, disinfection and distribution process.
  • Technologies have been fundamental, both those related to information and communication (information on the Web, data exchange, emails and instant messaging, collaboration groups on social networks), and those related to the production of masks (computer systems, software design and 3D printers).
  • Information and communication technologies have facilitated international cooperation, allowing interactions with professionals from Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica and the United States.

It should be noted that in the case of the NGO Guala, although it remains within its scope of action (Biomedical Engineering), it has had to generate internal changes and open spaces to produce a necessary good that was not previously part of its offer. This transformation has allowed his team to learn new ways of organization, communication, and streamline their production dynamics.

Likewise, work networks have been strengthened and the country today has a medium-scale production capacity for medical devices and implements, which can grow if the sustainability of this citizen initiative is promoted.