Editorial Feature

3D Printing in Response to Medical Shortages

Hundreds of nations across the world have at one point or another faced situations of crisis, whether they be attributed to economic, political or social turmoil, the problems associated with such situations are universal.

The current mounting turmoil in Venezuela, for example, which has involved a continually violent response to President Nicolás Maduro’s decisions that have led to the malnourishment of its citizens as a result of extreme inflation, rising unemployment rates and the rapid spread of diseases1.

The ongoing conflict in Syria is just another example of an ongoing devastating crisis that has taken the lives of more than 250,000 Syrians, and has forced over 11 million to flee their homes in an effort to escape this devastating civil war2.

Aside from the obvious problems present in the event of a national crisis, these affected areas are often unable to receive any type of medical assistance, whether that be due to the outright resistance of the country in need to foreign aid, or the inability of the nation to pay for the import of goods to address these needs.

The civil war in Syria, combined with a complete blockage of any foreign assistance, has caused for a massive shortage of medical equipment, doctors, medicine and electricity, and this nation is just one example of how this common lack of supplies costs the lives of millions during these events of crisis.

While Physicians and Medical Health Professionals become innovative in these situations, as they transform ordinary objects to medical supplies, such as transforming weapon parts into splints for broken bones3, the desperate need for real medical equipment is overwhelming.

To tackle the medical shortages that plagues the internal conflict present in Gaza, a group of Palestinian Physicians have turned to additive manufacturing, otherwise known as 3D printing. The use of 3D printing is not a novel idea within the field of medicine, as its application in this industry alone has transformed a number of medical devices such as prosthetic limbs, pharmaceutical compounds, medical models for surgical preparation, and much more.

The Gaza 3D printing endeavor involves four Physicians led by Canadian Doctor Tarek Loubani, whose goal is to manufacture low-cost and high-quality medical devices at a mass production rate. This project has begun with the production of a tested and approved 3D printing stethoscope, which takes about 2 hours to complete, but costs only $3 to produce, as compared to leading stethoscopes that can be priced as high as $200.

The innovation of these Gaza Physicians is incredible, especially when the “dual use” policy of Israel remains effective, which prohibits a large amount of items from being brought into Gaza as a result of the “concern” that it may be used for military purposes. When the 3D printer, a product that is completely banned in Gaza, was thought of to be a potential solution to their medical shortage issue, Abu Matar, a Telecommunications Graduate who creates his own devices, assembled his own 3D printer4.

Printer filaments are required for any type of 3D printing process, and the most commonly used 3D filament is a plastic material known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Such plastic filaments are too expensive to import to a country like Gaza, therefore Matar successfully created his own type of filament by combining different types of plastic pellets.

The success of the 3D printed stethoscope in Gaza is a substantial achievement for this team of Physicians and Technical Developers, especially when considering the fact that the largest hospital in Gaza, al-Shifa, only has one or two stethoscopes per department.

Since the its development, the Glia team is looking to 3D print even more medical devices that are extremely limited, but needed in the present state. Of these include a tourniquet and pulse oximeter, which is used to determine the amount of oxygen that is circulating within a patient.

By bridging the gap between national crisis and medical protection, the Glia team is hopeful that their work will continue to develop for generations.

Image Credit:

Sergi Lopez Roig/ Shutterstock.com


  1. “Venezuela: How paradise got lost” – CNN
  2. “Syria: The story of the conflict” – BBC News
  3. “Civil War Turns Syria’s Doctors Into Masters of Improvisation” – Wired
  4. “Using 3D printers to tackle Gaza’s medical shortages” – Aljazeera

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