While health care, insurance, and skyrocketing costs are a red hot topic in the U.S., we certainly expect that when we walk into an emergency room, medical tools will abound. From the most baby-faced medical students to busy nurses to skilled surgeons–everyone has access to the bare minimum at least, as we know it.
Now, let’s imagine a different scenario. You are having chest pains so you go to the ER. You walk into a bare bones medical center, and in order to listen to your heart, the doctor actually leans down to put his head on your chest in hopes to hear that irregularity in your heartbeat–as well as to begin diagnosing you, based on his findings.
Or, let’s say your child has a terrible earache–but upon meeting the doctor or nurse, you discover it will take some time to look into his ear because there is only one medical device for all medical staff to use, and someone else in the hospital is using it. No, this wouldn’t be some sort of prank–it would be life in a medical center in Gaza, where poverty and strife reign over everything else, due to political tug-of-war, chaos, invasions, and blockades in place and maintained by Israel and Egypt.
Blockades put an enormous amount of stress on the population, in some ways imprisoning them in their own country, where the most basic of supplies become scarce–and in a world where it’s tough to get enough food, you can certainly expect that it’s nearly impossible to get a stethoscope–or even a doctor standing before you at all.
Medical staff are sick of it. And they are fighting back with progress coming in from elsewhere–blockade or not–as well as with technology and their own minds, which are now responsible for some groundbreaking innovation, and a growing community of doctors and hackers who are setting out to make big changes.
Tarek Loubani is responsible for a device that surely could change life for emergency medical personnel in the Gaza Strip. The emergency physician has not only 3D printed a functional stethoscope, which would probably be enough itself considering the conditions, but his device costs only 30 cents to make, and in testing has actually outperformed the world’s best equipment that comes with a price tag of $200.
“I had to hold my ear to the chests of victims because there were no good stethoscopes, and that was a tragedy, a travesty, and unacceptable,” Loubani told the Chaos Communications Camp in Zehdenick, Germany. “We made a list of these things that if I could bring them into Gaza, into the third world in which I work and live, then I felt like I could change the lives of my patients.”
Inspired by his nephew’s rudimentary toy stethoscope which he enviously discovered had surprisingly good functionality, Loubani decided to pursue making his own. Thanks to the Glia Free Medical Hardware project, emanating from Github, medical professionals are able to work together to begin creating what they need, rather than waiting for tools and supplies to miraculously fall from the sky.
Glia was formed in 2012, after Israel began taking control. Supplies became short; healthcare became difficult all around. Loubani and his team of specialists, also well-versed in technology, designed the outstanding piece of 3D printed equipment which in the past six months has tested not only well in the lab but in the fields of developing areas, as well as hospitals.
“This stethoscope is as good as any stethoscope out there in the world and we have the data to prove it,” Loubani says.
It has indeed surpassed the performance level of the mainstream Littmann Cardiology III stethoscope, which is said in itself to be able to pick up the tiniest of crackles and murmurs, and is a pricey favorite among medical professionals from students to seasoned doctors. Sterilizating the new device is not an issue, and Loubani says the 3D printed stethoscope can be fitted with metal parts as well.
Considering that in Loubani’s area, one hospital that served a total of one million plus patients was in possession of only several stethoscopes, and one single autosculpt for seeing into into the ear canals of patients, this design, with others, would be viewed as a huge windfall if put into place in Gaza hospitals.
In collaboration with the Glia team, Loubani was able to put the device into research and development with an initial investment of $10,000 USD. The stethoscope project, along with all of Glia, is open-source, and Loubani and the group of medical professionals, technology specialists, and talented hackers hope to see this design–and others–spread the seeds of self-sustainability throughout developing countries.
“I wanted the people I work with to take it, and to print it, and to improve it because I knew all I wanted to do was bring the idea,” said Loubani of his 3D printed stethoscope.
Currently, they also have the following in development, and more:
- Pulse oximetry equipment
- A gauze loom
- Surgical tools
Those involved with Glia continue to seek more experienced individuals to join the Glia project for creating a list of other devices.