Libya Tribune

By Danya Hajjaji

Despite depleting materials and wartime struggles, Tripoli-based LYBOTICS remains dedicated to building protective gear delivered to medical staff on the front lines of Libya’s COVID-19 outbreak.

A youth-led Libyan robotics team has been building protective gear for health workers amid the war-torn country’s Covid-19 outbreak.

LYBOTICS, a Tripoli-based organisation founded in 2018, aspired to promote STEM education and sustainable development in Libya, team leader Mohammed Zaid told The New Arab.

When Libya’s first Covid-19 case was reported, LYBOTICS began 3D printing face shields after identifying a shortage of protective equipment for health workers. The team has relied on a network of volunteers to deliver the shields to frontline medical staff.

LYBOTICS comprises 37 members, whose ages range from 13 to 22 years old, in addition to 930 volunteers, said 20-year-old Zaid.

In an effort to encourage social distancing practices, the team has also devised a prototype for a protective belt that sounds an alarm whenever a person is too close to the individual wearing it.

Zaid said LYBOTICS built and delivered 13 reusable face shields per day at the beginning of Libya’s outbreak. While daily production has recently increased to 30 shields, the team is close to running out of materials and has resorted to producing one-time use shields.

Due to a critical lack of funding, LYBOTICS can no longer afford adequate materials for the shields, namely a type of plastic that is not locally available.

The team launched a fundraiser on subscription-based content platform Patreon last month, but has not gained any monthly donations so far.

On Sunday, Zaid posted a YouTube tutorial encouraging civilians to build homemade face shields for health workers using sheets of plastic, elastic bands and foam.

Libya’s novel coronavirus outbreak has forced LYBOTICS members to abandon their workshop and build face shields from home.

A number of team members who were displaced by the conflict don’t have that option, according to Zaid. Volunteers have also been making deliveries to hospitals at their own risk.

Beyond Tripoli, Zaid said LYBOTICS has successfully delivered shields to medical facilities in the western city of Zliten, with hopes for further expansion.

However, Tripoli’s coronavirus-era restrictions – such as a 2pm curfew – hinders delivery efforts beyond the capital.

Despite the persisting difficulties, Zaid told The New Arab the team has “very high hopes”.

“We believe coronavirus has a positive impact for our country, because the community is coming together for one goal, which is going back to zero cases in Libya,” he said.

Marred by devastating conflict, Libya has been a cause for concern for aid groups such as the World Health Organisation, which said the country’s debilitated health care system is unable to handle a widespread Covid-19 outbreak.

On Monday, a coronavirus-designated hospital in Tripoli, which is controlled by the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord, was shelled in an act the United Nations deemed “a clear violation of international humanitarian law”.

Local authorities said the eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army, which has tirelessly attempted to take over Tripoli for a year, was behind the attack.

Eastern Libya authorities confirmed the region’s first case of Covid-19 on Wednesday, which local media reported to be in Benghazi.

Libya has officially confirmed a total of 21 cases of the novel coronavirus, including one death.

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Danya Hajjaji earned an MS in Journalism from Columbia University and a BA in Media and Communications from the University of Sussex. Her areas of interest include human rights, social issues and culture stories.

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The New Arab