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Agri-Smart’s face shields to help tackle PPE shortage

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A woman serving food wears a plastic face shield along with her mask for added protection. Photo supplied

Agri-Smart’s face shields to help tackle PPE shortage

In light of the global shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE), a social enterprise specialising in designing and manufacturing affordable agricultural tools, Agri-Smart Cambodia, is on a mission to produce cheap and accessible protective face shields for Cambodians and healthcare practitioners.

Ibrahim Fitzgibbon, one of three mechanical engineers in the organisation, says the team immediately began to develop and stockpile affordable face shields.

“The problem is that the virus travels directly from person to person. Face masks are being shown to be more effective. The tide is turning towards face masks for public use. But there is a shortage of face shields and other PPE in hospitals and medical centres,” he says.

While the pandemic sweeps the globe including Cambodia, Agri-Smart has designed a durable and affordable face shield for public use.

Its choice of using bamboo for the locally made shields makes them inexpensive and aesthetically pleasing. The plastic version is also easier to sterilise and intended primarily for hospital use.

“A Cambodian edition must be cheap, quick and easy to make, clean [sterile], and effective. Our solution is to make a version from bamboo with a 3D printed plastic screen,” says Fitzgibbon who is a mechanical engineer by profession.

Agri-Smart is a home-grown social enterprise operating under a local NGO, Brooklyn Bridge to Cambodia (BB2C) which was registered in 2015.

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Everyone from food vendors to rickshaw drivers can easily wear the protective masks. Photo supplied

It was launched to provide Cambodian farmers with the tools and machinery to revolutionise agricultural methods and increase crop yields. This includes designing and manufacturing affordable agricultural tools such as the Rudi Khmer Pump Eli Rice Seeder.

“Agri-Smart designs and manufactures agricultural tools from insecticide sprayers to mechanical weed pullers and rice planting machines for Cambodian farmers.

“Our team of agronomists also delivers educational courses on science-led agricultural practices,” Fitzgibbon says.

With an eye on providing cutting-edge technology to the rural poor and transferring it to developing countries, Agri-Smart is promoting the idea that farmers can do it themselves.

Through their efforts with the help of technology, farmers can escape poverty and create a better life.

Other than providing agricultural technology, the organisation thrives to invent basic personal protective equipment so farmers and ordinary people can be healthy and fit for their work in the field.

The face shield covers the mouth, nose and eyes from any virus particles that may be projected into the air.

Using a couple of strips of bamboo, some elastic, 3D plastic, and a plastic visor, the device straps on to the head. It delivers the device in neat A4 envelopes, complete with assembly instructions, advice, and guidelines for use.

“After four days of our production line being in motion, we now have close to 500 shields prepared. Any surplus will be made available to the public this week,” Fitzgibbon says.

The device, which covers the user’s face, is used to protect the eyes, nose and mouth from bodily fluids, liquid splashes, or potentially infectious materials.

While the face shields have advantages compared to goggles in that they don’t fog and also cover a larger area of the face, they cannot protect against smaller particles that remain in the air. Yet, research shows that it’s more important to cover the eyes and face.

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Agri-Smart expects the face shields to help limit the spread of the virus, protect vendors at markets, street sellers, and healthcare practitioners too.

“Growing research supports its public use and the effectiveness of physical masks and shields, and we hope that the shields will act as an additional barrier between vulnerable people and the deadly virus particles,” Fitzgibbon says.

The challenge in making the face shield is the 3D printed ones which are time-consuming. With three printers and six fabricators, the company has been able to produce 100 shields per day, but could potentially make more if it keeps the printers running through the night.

“Another option is to design a batch of prints whereby parts are built on top of each other. This is an option if we need to ramp up production. In terms of resources, Agri-Smart has a team, but not capital.

“We are looking for funds that could subsidise the cost to the public, and so a retail price has not yet been set. Sure enough, we will keep the shield inexpensive and accessible, in keeping with our values,” Fitzgibbon says.

He stresses that it is an eco-friendly product from bamboo but the plastic version makes it easier to clean. Fitzgibbon is hoping that everybody can use the face shield to protect themselves and their loved ones.

“The full-face protection will keep your products clean and hygienic and can protect passengers if you are a driver. It is also best used for security guards to stay hygienic to keep buildings clean and safe,” he says.

Agri-Smart country director San Bunika says people normally use the face shield because it is more comfortable, protects a larger portion of the face, and has no impact on breathing resistance.

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Workers in cramped quarters can sport the locally made face shield. Photo supplied

Face shields are commonly used as a barrier to protect against infection by workers in the medical sector, factory workers, dental surgeons and nurses.

Wearers do not need to be clean-shaven and the shield can be disinfected easily. Of course, it is also an inexpensive piece of equipment that people can afford.

“We are also looking for cooperation with hospitals in Cambodia. This cooperation will help doctors not to worry too much about the shortage of PPE,” says Bunika.

He encourages people to reach the team if they wish to place an order. The wholesale price of the Covid-19 face shield is $1.50.

The Agri-Smart team reiterates the advice of the experts to stay at home as much as possible, avoid crowds and close contact with others, and wash your hands regularly with soap and clean water. And above all, shield your face.

“I would love to see all farmers living healthier and happily thanks to technology. I am passionate about mechanical engineering lightening the load of human labour, but it is vital that we all benefit from a world where machines do the work,” says Fitzgibbon.

Agri-Smart is located 28G, Prek Talong II village, Chak Angre Krom commune, Meanchey district. For more information visit Facebook @ Agri-Smart Cambodia or call 012 857 527 and 011 447 725.

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