RIO DE JANEIRO – A resident of the Brazilian metropolis of Rio de Janeiro is doing his part to aid the global fight against COVID-19, using homemade 3D printers to make facial protectors for those battling the disease in his low-income district.
Lucas de Lima, a mechanical engineer who crafts his 3D printers out of electronic scrap, is creating face shield-type masks and distributing them to health professionals and volunteers in Complexo do Alemao, a sprawling collection of slums on Rio’s north side where violence is a regular aspect of daily life.
He was born and raised in Morro do Adeus, one of the neighborhoods that make up this large network of favelas that are home to more than 65,000 people, according to the most recent census.
The 25-year-old is manufacturing between 15 and 20 facial protectors every day at the residence he shares with his mother and grandmother, an elderly woman who is at particular risk from this novel coronavirus blamed for 1,019 deaths in Rio de Janeiro state and 7,025 nationwide.
De Lima is concerned that the lone emergency care unit (UPA) in their sector – a facility that services a population of 20,000 people – might not have the means of treating his grandmother if she were to become infected with the virus.
The health care system of Rio de Janeiro state was already in crisis prior to the coronavirus due to the looting of public coffers by corrupt mayors, governors and other politicians.
With the arrival of the pandemic, shortages of basic supplies and equipment have become much more evident, particularly in the favelas. And although authorities say they are concerned about the spread of the virus, the attention paid to low-income communities has been practically non-existent.
“The government isn’t supplying the UPAs. It’s not supplying the family clinics, and those health professionals are at the mercy of the virus, working with what they have,” De Lima told EFE.
Every day he sees volunteers working more than 20 hours a day and traveling through crime-ridden areas to take food and hygiene products to Complexo do Alemao’s most remote favelas or health professionals using makeshift stretchers to transport patients.
“When we talk about Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, we’re also talking about a lot of government neglect. So, we’re practically on our own, left to our own fate, but we have community leaders who do work that I can’t even describe,” De Lima said.
The 25-year-old engineer carries community service in his blood, and it is that sense of solidarity and a belief that the uplifting of the favelas must come from within that has led him to contribute to the public-health effort.
While still at university, De Lima’s restless spirit led him to create his first homemade 3D printer. Lacking the nearly 17,000 reais ($3,207) needed to acquire a brand-name device, he built one of his own out of electronic scrap that cost him just 700 reais, or 24 times less.
“I look for most of the motors at junkyards, in discarded fax machines, and I also visit a recycling cooperative in Jacare (a favela in northern Rio),” said the young engineer, who added that the electronic parts are the only new pieces he uses in making the printers.
After graduation he began giving life to a low-cost 3D-printer factory, a project known as “Infill.” In tandem, he also began pursuing another initiative known as “Maker Space,” a type of laboratory where young residents of his favela can learn about technology and later carry out the 3D-printing, or additive manufacturing, work.
Those projects had to be put on hold with the arrival of the pandemic in Brazil, but De Lima sought out a way to help and joined the SOS3DCOVID-19 initiative, which assists health professionals by making facial protectors.
The planned “Infill” factory, which De Lima refers to as a “little Silicon Valley” or miniature “Wakanda” (a fictional world created by Marvel Comics that was the setting for the 2018 film “Black Panther”), had been scheduled to launch in April and is still very much in the works despite the momentary setback.
“It hasn’t died. We’re just on pause and trying to do a job to help health professionals and the volunteer movements that are taking food to the top of the hill,” De Lima said.