With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of infected people is growing, along with the restrictions imposed by local governments on doing business. Slowly and inevitably, the nightmare of financial crisis is beginning to emerge on the horizon of events, which in worst case scenario may collapse the global economy. At the same time, many people in the world devote their resources regardless of the situation, trying to help hospitals and health centers, providing them with equipment, protective clothing and masks. The need to help those in need is often stronger than common sense and taking care of the consequences. Unfortunately, even the most sincere good intentions can be met with resistance from the authorities…
A few days ago we published the fantastic story of several Italian volunteers who 3D printed valves for medical equpiment for the hospital in Brescia, which were about to run out. The supplier was unable to provide new valves on time, and lack of them could endanger the lives of seriously ill patients. Without hesitation, the team of engineers designed and 3D printed them – and people were saved. Quite unexpectedly, it turned out that the manufacturer of medical devices threatened them with a lawsuit for patent infringement. Fortunately, history became viral and volunteers were even congratulated by Paola Pisano – the Italian Minister of Innovation Technology Digitalization.
There is no information about any further legal action on the part of the manufacturer, so everything seems to indicate that in the face of media hype that has been created, volunteers are not threatened by any lawsuit.
This story inspired many people in the world who decided to help hospitals by 3D printing them all sorts of things. On forums and Facebook groups around the world, people began to organize. On 3D Printing Media a forum was set up to gather all the informations concerning specific needs. In result, Dr. Zahid Fedial, an ER Doctor at the Aljawda hospital in Sudan, reached out to ask for support with respirators:
I can say without a doubt that we are in desperate need of those 3D printed ventilators designs and devices – we don’t have enough resources in our ICU and we certainly will not be able to cope with the with numbers of patients that are expected to arrive, which could spell for disaster.
The story happened today (2020-03-18) so we don’t know yet how will Dr Fedidal’s request end? However, apart from the situation in Sudan, things do not look the same in individual countries… When we master our emotions and sincere – though spontaneous – willingness to help, it turns out that all this is not so simple.
A rather awkward situation occurred in Poland… In Cieszyn, city residents organized and began to sew personal protective equipment for employees of the Silesian Hospital – protective masks and overalls. Unfortunately, the hospital had to refuse them and they could not be used. The reason is quite obvious…
We are extremely grateful for your initiatives such as in actions for collecting and sewing personal protective equipment for medical personnel of the Silesian Hospital. Appreciating and respecting your effort, however, we must point out that for safety reasons and having regard to the health of patients and staff – hospitals must not accept and use masks, gloves or overalls without the appropriate approval allowing them to care for patients.
Your initiative to sew masks or overalls is moving – but they must be made of specialized, sterile materials and originally packed. It is also necessary to have a suitable place of production that meets the above requirements. Only then can we use them in the hospital.
The hospital encourages people to think about fundraising and financial support instead of preparing things that they cannot use anyway.
This leads us to a difficult but inevitable matter: the production of medical equipment – whether using 3D printers or other manufacturing methods, may prove useless, because of the current regulations – doctors will not be able to simply use them. The case described above from the hospital in Brescia could only be an exception confirming the rule. In extreme cases like this, when human life is directly threatened by the lack of some component for the machine, they are justified. However, as a general rule, we should focus on what can be done and will be allowed by the laws of each country.
Each region of the world has its own legislative system and regulations. We can agree or disagree with them, but they determine order and we must follow them. Every even the most noble initiative must be accepted by the government – and any government can decline the help it offers if it finds it does not meet safety requirements.
If the decision it makes turns out to be wrong – it will be accounted for this in the next election.