Doctor raises money to create and distribute thousands of face shields in Zambia

A UAB doctor who lives in Zambia has raised thousands of dollars to create and distribute more than 16,000 face shields to health care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The work of health care providers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham extends beyond the United States. In March, Albert Manasyan, M.D., a doctor in the Division of Neonatology at UAB, returned to Zambia, where he has lived since 2008.  

Realizing that what was happening in the United States would eventually spread to Africa, he began thinking of ways to help frontline health care workers from his home in Lusaka, Zambia.

“The rush of packing to leave before flights were canceled, coupled with the World Health Organization’s announcing SARS-CoV-2 as a pandemic, made me think of ways to help the Zambian government with the fight against COVID-19,” Manasyan said. “It was due to this that I realized we do not need 3D printers to make face shields and that we can make them with locally available materials.”  

Using PVC, foam, tape, elastic and staples, Manasyan and a team of volunteers have made more than 16,000 face shields that have been distributed to health care workers throughout the country.

With the initial plan to make 2,000 face shields, he started a GoFundMe page to raise $1,000 to buy the necessary materials. He reached his goal within one day.

“My friends, my overly zealous goddaughter and I sat down in my living room and in two days made 1,000 face shields,” he said. “However, once we donated them to the Ministry of Health and when the minister himself tried one on during live TV, we started getting requests from government health facilities, and suddenly our target grew from 2,000 to 10,000.” 

Manasyan realized he needed not only more funding, but more people to help meet the demand. He enlisted the seven volunteers of the Barefeet Theatre group, a non-governmental organization that provides outreach programs for children living on the streets of Zambia, where he is on the board of directors.

As of May 13, they have distributed 16,147 face shields throughout Zambia. The new goal is to raise $30,000 to make 50,000 face shields to be given to health care workers who are treating patients with COVID-19, collecting swabs and screening them. They also hope to make 10,000 face masks to give out to patients who are being seen in outpatient and inpatient clinics.

While this initiative is helping health care workers, it is also supporting Barefeet Theatre’s efforts in helping children.

“Barefeet Theatre receives funding to conduct community activities to raise awareness about numerous health issues, and it works with vulnerable children on the street by providing them with theatrical skills and food,” Manasyan said. “Due to the pandemic, the organization has not received any funding; therefore, we are supporting them as much as we can by providing them with an incentive for assembling these face shields.”  

As for the support from not only his community, but people from all over the world, Manasyan says this initiative has shown him the meaning of unity, hope and faith.  

“This virus affects all of us, irrespective of age, sex, race and socioeconomic status,” he said. “I believe this has brought people together, to unite as one and join the fight against COVID-19. There are many people whom I do not know, but who have donated money and have the hope and faith that I will do what I have promised in order to help protect our frontline workers.”

To donate and learn more about the Face Shields for Zambia initiative, visit the GoFundMe page.  

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