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Producing PPE in Zimbabwe

15 September 2020


Chris Lavy of Oxford University and Dr Clare Shakespeare, Obstetrics and Gynaecology Registrar at Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe tell us about a low-cost innovative project which saw a variety of different teams working together to ensure adequate supplies of PPE in an initiative which supported wider government efforts while responding to local needs.

When Covid-19 was declared a national disaster on 27th March 2020 in Zimbabwe, the local health services had to move quickly to bring in appropriate policies and protocols. Following discussions between the UK partners and local clinicians, a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was identified as the key risk. The procurement of PPE was a challenge in many facilities, including Mpilo Central Hospital, which meant that for the first few weeks there were insufficient surgical face masks for staff. The group decided to use NHS-donated operating theatre drapes made of waterproof cloth to contribute to the supply of PPE.

As Dr Clare Shakespeare explains:

‘Bulawayo Orthopaedic Hospital (a new charity hospital being set up in Bulawayo) donated to us some spare surgical drapes fabric which I gave to local tailors in order to make fabric masks or interim use by staff, when surgical masks were unavailable. We hoped it would be particularly good for this use, being of good quality and splash and droplet resistant.’

The tailors were paid with funds provided by The Beit Trust and in total, 510 fabric masks were made, in two different designs, one of which was supplied with a little pouch for safe storage and an infographic on safe use (as pictured).  In addition, the Beit Trust also directly donated 50 face visors which were given to the labour ward and maternity theatres at Mpilo Hospital.

Since then, production of the fabric masks has come to a halt as there are now sufficient surgical masks in the hospital. While the initiative was intended to help fill a need which existed at that time rather than offering a permanent solution for PPE, staff who received the masks still have them for use at work or at home.

Chris Lavy said:

‘The Oxford team is eager to continue contributing in whichever way possible and are looking to conduct further consultations with local partners remotely to establish key challenges and think through collaborative solutions.’

– Chris Lavy, Oxford University and Dr Clare Shakespeare, Mpilo Central Hospital.


Face masks produced to protect staff and support Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 response.

Staff member at Mpilo Central Hospital wearing PPE.

Face mask, small pouch for safe storage and an infographic on safe use.