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Supporting COVID-19 Responders: Worcester Polytechnic Institute Expands STEM Program in Africa to Address an Anticipated Shortage of Critical Medical Devices

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is expanding an existing science and engineering training program in Sub-Saharan Africa to help provide critical medical supplies to address the expected spike of COVID-19 cases. As part of its longtime Math and Science for Sub Saharan Africa (MS4SSA) initiative, WPI has arranged for 3D printers and other materials to be sent to six countries to facilitate the manufacturing of masks, face shields, and parts for simple automated ventilators. WPI will also share designs and offer online training sessions to ensure safe and effective production as experts are predicting a surge of COVID-19 patients in Africa over the next six to eight weeks.

“Because WPI already had a program to support STEM learning in Africa through the MS4SSA, we are able to quickly launch this additional work to create and distribute critical medical supplies to help address the pandemic,” said Winston (Wole) Soboyejo, WPI Provost. “It is amazing to see how that project, which started with modules in robotics, materials, and 3D printing, has helped to prepare a new generation of trainers from six African countries to work with WPI faculty, staff, and students to now focus on co-creating and scaling-up the distribution of face masks and face shields that will protect health workers from the coronavirus, and innovate with a new ventilator design developed by a WPI professor. This work will impact the lives of people in Massachusetts and Sub-Saharan African countries.”

Launched by the World Bank in 2016, the MS4SSA initiative complements other efforts to improve mathematics and science education in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). It offers countries technical assistance to enhance learning outcomes in those subjects. Over the last two years the initiative has grown to include robotics engineering, materials science, and 3D printing.

“It is wonderful to see African institutions and WPI working together to use and adapt technology to meet African needs. The impact of this program to address timely and critical issues speaks to the strong motivation to build the technical-scientific capability of Africa,” said Sajitha Bashir, World Bank Adviser to the Education Global Director on Science, Technology, and Innovation.

As part of the expanded MS4SSA initiative, Nigeria, Rwanda, Niger, The Gambia, Mauritius, and Ghana will be provided with 3D printers and materials to ramp up production on medical devices that will be needed to meet the expected demand. Each team in those countries will also have access to online training modules and open source design plans. The goal is to create 1,000 face shields per country in the coming weeks. The team in Nigeria has already started leveraging their newly acquired 3D printers to fabricate frames for face shields. Those have been given to several Nigerian hospitals where doctors have expressed the need for even more.

In addition to face shields, WPI is sharing designs to 3D print ventilator parts. Similar to the situation in the United States and many other parts of the world, hospitals in Africa are finding themselves ill-prepared in terms of functioning ventilators on hand. For example, the MS4SSA team learned that at one hospital in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, 17 of 37 available were not in working condition.

"There is a dire need of medical supplies which the knowledge of 3D printing has helped to ameliorate. With WPI’s support, the Pan African Materials Institute (PAMI) is currently printing face shields, N95 nose masks, swabs, and other personal protection equipment (PPE), while also recycling the waste and using commodity plastics as alternative source of resins,” said Shola Odusanya, MS4SSA Nigeria representative. “These PPEs are being provided to the medical communities in both Lagos and Abuja as stopgaps till the world economy reopens to allow importation of these vital needs"

WPI is making its online training sessions for 3D printing available to all MS4SSA members. It will also be launching a new training series later this month, which will include infectious disease modeling; sewing, testing, and sterilizing cloth face masks; ventilator design and assembly; and an introduction to medical robotics. These courses will be taught by faculty from WPI and partner institutions in Africa.

About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

WPI, the global leader in project-based learning, is a distinctive, top-tier technological university founded in 1865 on the principle that students learn most effectively by applying the theory learned in the classroom to the practice of solving real-world problems. Recognized by the National Academy of Engineering with the 2016 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, WPI’s pioneering project-based curriculum engages undergraduates in solving important scientific, technological, and societal problems throughout their education and at more than 50 project centers around the world. WPI offers more than 50 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs across 14 academic departments in science, engineering, technology, business, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Its faculty and students pursue groundbreaking research to meet ongoing challenges in health and biotechnology; robotics and the internet of things; advanced materials and manufacturing; cyber, data, and security systems; learning science; and more.

Media Contact:

Colleen Bamford Wamback
Associate Director of Public Relations
and Government Communications
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Worcester, Massachusetts

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