Face shields against COVID-19: The young people providing PPE worldwide

In the face of the global pandemic, many lives have been lost and many others have been overwhelmingly changed. Personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves helps stop the spread of coronavirus and saves lives. But in many hospitals and health services in the UK and around the world, there has been a dire shortage of resources to protect those working directly on the frontline.

Raleigh alumni Will is a co-founder Augment Bionics, a medical devices start-up which specialises in prosthetic arms. Since returning from his Raleigh ICS placement in Tanzania early in 2020 due to COVID-19, Will and the team at Augment Bionics have been working to produce face shields for people working in health services worldwide so they can be protected from the virus.

“In my final year at The University of Edinburgh I co-founded Augment Bionics, a medical devices start-up focused on producing functional and affordable 3D printed myoelectric prosthetics. However, in March 2020, as the number of Coronavirus cases grew, we became aware of the global lack of personal protective equipment. We wanted to take action to help protect our frontline workers, so we pivoted our business to help mitigate the impact of the Coronavirus, working swiftly to repurpose our 3D printers to produce face shields. All of which were donated to the NHS and countries in need abroad.”

The team at Augment Bionics set up a manufacturing space at Latymer Upper School in West London. Within one week of advertising their services, they quickly became inundated with requests and realised that 3D printing would not keep up with the growing demand. In response, they shifted to large scale manufacturing to increase production capacity from 200 to 20,000 face shields per week.

Preparing a shipment of face shields to Armenia

“To date, we have distributed 60,000 shields to the NHS, 30,000 to the Ministry of Health Armenia and 20,000 to rural healthcare workers in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Somaliland – for a total of 110,000 shields! Concurrently, we have also tried to limit our environmental impact. As a forward- looking company with strong views on sustainability, we are acutely aware of the plastics problem single-use shields pose, and to reduce this we have opted to make our shields out of recycled plastic bottles so that we’re maximising the social impact while minimising the environmental impact.”

Over 60,000 Augment Bionics face shields have been supplied to the NHS

Running a start-up during such uncertain times has been tumultuous to say the least, but Will and the team have achieved so much through their hard work and support from generous funders and donors who have given over £100,000 for their work.

“Throughout this initiative, we have received heart-warming messages from doctors thanking us for our shields. One of the most impactful messages was early on in our campaign when a Coronavirus ward doctor told us that our shields had helped to save two lives. Knowing that we have had an impact against the backdrop of something as large as a global pandemic has provided me with an overwhelming sense of fulfilment.”

Will and his team have helped to tackle the PPE crisis globally

Augment Bionics is an example of the feats young people can achieve when engaging with key issues of our times and when given the freedom to act. Together they have played a part in tackling a crisis that has affected everyone and has undoubtedly saved lives.

Staff and volunteers at Augment Bionics

“It is how you respond to life’s challenges that will define you. For us, this means we will offer face shields for as long as they are needed.”

Will volunteered with Raleigh through the UK government-funded ICS programme in early 2020, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, where he supported young entrepreneurs on his livelihoods project in rural Tanzania. Now Will joins Raleigh’s 50,000 strong alumni network of change makers around the world. 

Related blog posts