Haiti is both a land of beauty and a land of suffering. Among the awe-inspiring mountain views and coastal areas, eroded lands and deforestation are abundant. Five years after the devastating earthquake, a slow reconstruction continues. The capital, Port-au-Prince, is a city pulsing with a lively energy but the citizens there also face difficult barriers for improvement. The World Bank estimates that 59% live under the national poverty line of just $2.44 per day and 24% under $1.24 dollar per day. The majority of people lack adequate shelter, clean water and access to health care.
A 3D printed umbilical cord clamp, co-created with medical workers in Haiti
Recently, I witnessed some of these contrasts while collaborating with the nonprofit, Field Ready. They provide humanitarian aid by using technology and education as a vehicle to transform logistical supply chains. The team of aid workers, designers and technologists are bringing 3D printing to the healthcare space for developing countries. Eric James, a co-founder of Field Ready, explains "3D printing offers a lot of flexibility and this will only improve in the future. And the future is what we're working on now."
As the cost of 3D printing continues to go down and usage goes up, collaborative design initiatives are empowering people to overcome low socio-economic environments and also enabling new ways to provide humanitarian aid. The growth in 3D printing has also encouraged an exploration of new materials and applications. This inspired Field Ready to begin recycling ABS and to investigate how to recycle other polymers with the goal of turning plastic waste into filament.
By co-creating with medical workers in Haiti, Field Ready identified medical tools and parts that could be 3D printed to meet localized demand. One example is the umbilical cord clamp. Many traditional birthing attendants are women living in villages without easy access to healthcare and medical supplies. Given the lack of sterile tools and training, newborns may suffer from a high rate of infections or postnatal umbilical sepsis. Typically, birthing attendants will use what is available to them—ranging from shoelaces to the improper use of a sterile string. Even when using a hygienic cord, the risks are high from improper use—either tying too tight and severing the cord, or tying too loose and causing hemorrhaging. Clamps, on the other hand, have a precision grip and clamp, leaving no guesswork for birthing attendants. With the freedom to do rapid design iterations with the local community, Field Ready optimized the umbilical cord clamp with participants like Lori Moise, a Registered Nurse and the Clinic Director of Real Hope for Haiti. Real Hope for Haiti provides birthing kits to women that live too far from the clinic to walk in and give birth. Located in the village of Cazale, more than an hour's drive north of the capital, the clinic treats all sorts of health issues; from hypertension to malnourished children. With Lori's input, the team developed a clamp with more bend and flexibility in the base. This small innovation helps prevent severed umbilical cords.
With several trips to Haiti under their belt, Field Ready has established strong ties with other organizations such as Haiti Communitere, a nonprofit based in Port-au-Prince. Communitere serves as a guest house and a hub to connect aid groups with an emphasis on working with the local community. During my recent visit, I learned that they live up to their name. Communitere is a resource center and makerspace which provides a large shop, meeting rooms, and a computer lab built to inspire locals to gather together and learn from each other. They hosted Field Ready's 3D printers and the staff participated in 3D printing lessons offered by me and Dara Dotz, a principal designer for Field Ready. I joined Dara to further test Field Ready's approach and focus on passing the basic skills of 3D printing on to others.
Sharing knowledge is a big part of what these organizations are all about. Communitere has sustained its mission since its inception after the 2010 earthquake. Similarly, while Field Ready may come and go from Haiti, they leave behind the technology, the knowledge and the access to a supply chain.
Where does that leave the potential use of technologies like 3D printing in places like Haiti? With several 3D printing efforts underway to make improvements in the well-being of Haitians and other developing countries, we know that 3D printing isn't the 'silver bullet.' Yet it presents promising and powerful opportunities to provide necessities like medical supplies when resources are limited. As Dara explains, "The most important part is not just teaching people how to make these products, but about developing resiliency, so that when the next disaster strikes, they are prepared with their own solutions."
From this blans (Creole for foreigner) perspective, Haiti's future looks to have some bright spots. Though the risk of pitfalls is imminent, and progress is slow, nothing will get in the way of Haiti's rising.
Interested in supporting efforts to rebuild Haiti? Here's how to help: