In light of the pandemic that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, a startup in Uganda– Takataka Plastics have devoted their time to create face shields against the coronavirus. Previously, they recycled plastic to create materials used in construction sites. Now, they have adopted a more humanitarian approach to their work.
This startup, based in Gulu, Uganda, is not only bringing about a change in the country with their face shields, but they are also bringing in employment. ‘Takataka’, which means ‘waste’ in Swahili, is the brainchild of Peter Okwoko, a Ugandan who was sick of the ever-increasing plastic pollution in his country. To alleviate the situation, he teamed up with UC Berkeley graduate Paige Balcom. The startup was launched last year and has been heavily involved in reducing plastic pollution in the area.
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The company initially thought of transforming waste plastic into pavers and roofing tiles. But with COVID-19, their talents were better served to make face shields for healthcare workers.
The under-developed nation of Uganda is suffering quite heavily from the ravages of the disease. But, the government, as well as the department of health, are helpless in trying to fix the situation. Not only are ventilation and isolation wards a distant dream, the health workers too don’t have protective gear with which they can treat their patients.
According to Okwoko, only private nursing homes and affluent families can afford the basic coronavirus treatment, with the larger population succumbing. This thought led Takataka Plastics to focus all their energy on researching and manufacturing coronavirus masks.
Although Takataka Plastics are basing most of their time creating coronavirus face shields, they haven’t forgotten what they were really built for. Okwoko laments that more than 80% of the plastic in Gulu is simply littered rather than taken care of. This leads to the plastics releasing harmful gases into the atmosphere when burnt, or simply being a nuisance all over. These leftover plastics block drains and other water sources, leading to mosquitoes breeding and spreading malaria.
When they began making the recycled plastic face shields, they had no clue that it would result in such widespread acceptance. Initially, they had sampled a few face shields for a local hospital. But soon, the hospitals called for them, asking for more as the previous batch had worked so well. This can be considered a godsend. The lack of gear and their high price in the global market had pushed most health workers in Uganda to think of boycott as an option.
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The coronavirus pandemic has affected the third world countries the hardest because of the extremely high price of PPE. While WHO has advised companies to reduce their prices in the wake of a humanitarian crisis, it isn’t certain how low the prices would go. Dr. Mukuzi Muhereza, the secretary-general for the health worker’s body was reportedly mentioned saying that the situation was so dire that some health workers had to jump in without face shields or any other protective gear.
Image Credits: Big Ideas Contest