21 June 2020

Protecting the Tiniest of Lives: VCUarts Qatar Produces Infant Face Shields

QF partner university continues community-wide initiatives to combat COVID-19

During the last week of Ramadan 2020, Dr. Mai Al-Qubaisi, a Senior Consultant in Neonatal Intensive Care, and Medical Director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), was wondering how she could prevent her tiny charges from contracting the disease.

She had read and heard reports of how countries such as China and Taiwan – which were amongst the first to report cases – had started using infant face shields for newborn babies. With the number of cases in Qatar on the rise, she knew she would have to act quickly.

“When I learned that some mothers – whose newly-born babies were in the NICU – had tested positive for the virus, my first response was to ensure the safety of their infants,” says Dr. Al-Qubaisi. “For this, I would need to import wearable equipment to protect the infants as they were being held and bottle-fed by their mothers, and their caregivers.

“I searched online but couldn’t find any that would serve the purpose. And as the number of cases in Qatar were increasing, I felt I was running out of time. That’s when my niece mentioned that she’d seen an Instagram post of face shields being produced by VCUarts Qatar.”

Dr. Al-Qubaisi reached out to Qatar Foundation partner university Weill Cornell Medicine - Qatar which put her in touch with VCUarts Qatar, and the university’s Digital Fabrication Lab & Woodshop Coordinator Chris Buchakjian and the Fab Lab team – the same team which helped design and manufacture adult face shields for Qatar Foundation’s Primary Health Care Center in Education City, a few weeks previously.

Sensing the urgency of the request, VCUarts Qatar’s designers offered to meet with Dr. Al-Qubaisi as soon as possible.

“It was the day before the start of the Eid break when I first met with Chris to discuss measurements and designs,” she recalls. “So I assumed that the masks would be ready only after the Eid break. But much to my amazement, Chris and his team not only said they would help design and deliver the masks, but that they would work over the Eid break and have them ready as soon as possible.

“And they did; I had the first batch of infant face shields, around two dozen of them, delivered to me on the second day of the Eid holidays. The VCUarts Qatar team literally worked around the clock, and through their holidays, for these babies. It’s a humanitarian gesture that I will never forget.”

Buchakjian and the Fab Lab team used infant-sized dolls supplied by VCUarts Qatar’s Facilities and Safety department.

“We succeeded in manufacturing and delivering 100 infant face shields in just a few days because the people and resources were already in place,” he says. “And we’re preparing to produce more.

“Ultimately design is an aspirational practice. We create products that we want to see in the world, and we strive to do so in a way that our actions positively impact others.”

The equipment is currently being used by infants in the NICU’s at both HMC and the Cuban Hospital.

Dr. Al-Qubaisi sums up her experience, thus. “When I first thought of buying infant face-shields, not for a moment did I think that I would be able to have them manufactured in my own country – it’s wonderful what can happen when people work together for a common purpose,” she says.

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