GCRF_NF100 PPE & Refugees: dealing with a crisis by building livelihoods

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Chemistry


In March 2020 we were contacted by UNHCR for help with PPE in the Zaatari refugee camp, using digital printing and sewing capabilities here at our UK Universities and in the camp. Our immediate response means that this work has already started. In both the UK and Jordan we have made prototypes of masks, shields and gowns and there have been co-created innovations in both design and joining technologies. With Agile Response funds we will run an interdisciplinary co-production project, comprising a socio-technical part focused on designing PPE for production in refugee camps and the host community, and socio-behavioural part, understanding how the availability of PPE affects people's attitudes and behaviours around risk, and so enables them to address health threats. Digital manufacturing and digital data gathering will be central, enabling real-time collaboration even without face-to-face contact.
In Jordan - and other lower/middle income countries - there was very limited availability of PPE at the beginning of the pandemic in refugee camps, and UNHCR was only able to source materials for clinical needs. Whilst Jordan has done extraordinarily well in suppressing transmission of the virus, recording 11 deaths from 1100 cases, it has been at only been achieved through the result of a very severe economic and social lockdown and stringent defense laws being invoked. The UNHCR is preparing for Covid19 to a dramatic impact when it comes into densely populated camps, causing community transmission, as lock down is eased. There is a pressing need for supplies of PPE compliant with Jordanian (and other country) standards, yet with limited buying power neither the UN agency nor the government is well-placed to compete globally for supplies. The development need is thus for sustainable local manufacture, using a reliable supply of locally available, low-cost materials to produce PPE appropriate to refugees' needs. Simultaneously, the project will tackle the problem of plastic waste, (including discarded PPE), open employment opportunities in small-scale manufacturing, and build resilience within the camp community by reinforcing a sense of collective agency and capacity. The direct benefits of this research will accrue to the substantial refugee populations in Jordan, with outcomes also applicable to other low resource economies hosting displaced people.
Building on existing technical prototyping activities, the project will increase knowledge on successfully producing PPE in the refugee context. The central innovation is to a) co-create the design, manufacture and distribution process with the refugees as partners and thus empowered agents, and b) to thus calibrate the process and outputs to the specific conditions in the camp. The refugee-led social research will address broader questions, currently insufficiently addressed in the literature, of the effects of PPE uptake on refugees' sense of agency, ability and willingness to play a role in preventing and treating COVID-19.
We can move swiftly, as we have engineering and social science PDRAs from the UKRI #redefiningsingleuse grant ready and keen to go. In Jordan, UNHCR and Al Albayt University will train participatory action researchers (PARs) to engage in the design, manufacturing, and implementation of comprehensive reusable PPE (initially masks, shields and gowns, moving on to innovations in gloves and hand sanitiser). The University of Petra will use semi-structured interviews and PARs to understand the social/spatial aspect of PPE-associated behaviour in the confined environment of the camp.


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