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How Open Source Medical Supplies Fostered a Community Response to a Global Health Crisis

Learn how Open Source Medical Supplies met the moment during the COVID-19 pandemic to quickly spin up a website with reliable designs for engineers, crafters, and manufacturers responding to PPE shortages — all made possible by the Pantheon WebOps platform. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe in early 2020, one thing became immediately clear: No country had the resources to adequately protect medical professionals, essential workers, and those on the front lines. The Strategic National Stockpile in the U.S.had a mere one-percent of the face masks it needed. This lack of inventory combined with supply chain disruption meant that overburdened hospitals and healthcare facilities ran out of supplies within weeks. Not a good situation. 

Enter Gui Cavalcanti. This robotics entrepreneur saw a way to harness the power of craftmakers, DIY engineers, small manufacturers, local organizers, experts, and established institutions to meet the immediate needs of the medical community. And a Facebook Group was born, which, with the help of some strategic partners including Pantheon, quickly morphed into the nonprofit Open Source Medical Supplies (OSMS).

From Facebook Group to Global Network 

“Really, the fact that our unprotected medical workers, first responders, and essential workers — all trying to keep our services going without adequate protection — really motivated people all across the world, almost at the same time."

- Sabrina Merlo, Head of Local Response at OSMS, on the catalyst for OSMS' creation

Cavalcanti’s Facebook Group started as an open-source ventilator project, to meet the needs of hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in respiratory distress. In less than three weeks, the Facebook group had 60,000 members and had moved beyond ventilators into face masks, shields, and other vital medical supplies. 

“Really, the fact that our unprotected medical workers, first responders, and essential workers — all trying to keep our services going without adequate protection — really motivated people all across the world, almost at the same time,” said Sabrina Merlo, Head of local response for OSMS. “It was a real Zeitgeist moment.”

Members shared designs for PPE, which were vetted by OSMS and turned into PDFs. It didn’t take long for Cavalcanti to realize that a Facebook Group wasn’t going to cut it: He needed a full-fledged website where he could create a repository for open-source designs. 

Throughout the pandemic, Pantheon has offered the full service of the WebOps platform at no charge to government, medical, or educational institutions with a crisis communications website, or nonprofit organizations directly providing relief. This enabled OSMS to get a website up and running quickly, and create a Project Library with more than 200 designs for various types of PPE along with detailed instructions for making them.

OSMS Project Library with all kinds of instructions for PPE and medical equipment. 

The Impact of OSMS During COVID-19

The OSMS community, also known as the Citizen Maker Response, has produced at least 48,392,965 units of medical supplies in response to pandemic-induced supply shortages, including:

  • 25 million face shields

  • 8 million protective gowns

  • 6 million cloth masks

The community of makers, crafters, DIY-ers, and small-to-medium scale manufacturers has also designed, produced, and distributed shoe covers, surgical caps, Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR), and multiple positive-pressure inflatable suits. Distilleries around the world stepped up to convert their ethanol production to hand sanitizer and other groups and individuals produced hand soap. Several types of emergency-use ventilators were manufactured, with many meeting stringent regulatory standards for use. 

The vast majority of OSMS' 42,000-strong community (93%) volunteered their labor to the PPE effort. The network spans 86 countries, and all 50 U.S. states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. The success of OSMS proves that ordinary people with a desire to help really can make a difference.

OSMS Website Expansion and the Future

As the Citizen Maker Response has grown, so have the activities of OSMS. The website offerings have expanded beyond the Project Library to include COVID-19 Guides dedicated to pandemic topics like school safety, PPE use, and home care for those who are ill with COVID-19 or quarantining after recent exposure. 

A look above at OSMS' website, complete with COVID-19 guides, a project library, local response efforts, and global impact initiatives. 

“It's still a spotty universe out there, in terms of the supply chain. It's not completely intact, demand is enormous, prices are super high, shipping is super constrained — like it is not a solved problem."

- Sabrina Merlo on the spotty supply chain right now for PPE distribution

The website now features a directory of active makers, crafters, and manufacturers around the world, and The OSMS COVID-19 Local Response Guide, for those who wish to organize PPE production and distribution efforts in their own communities. The organization has partnered with various corporations, nonprofits, and medical institutions to better meet ongoing PPE needs on a local, national, and global level.

“It's still a spotty universe out there, in terms of the supply chain,” said Merlo. “It's not completely intact, demand is enormous, prices are super high, shipping is super constrained, like it is not a solved problem.”

OSMS’ work continues as the pandemic does, and there are specific policies and activities the organization hopes to implement in the future, including:

  • Formalize, fund, and incentivize the Citizen Maker Response Network

  • Create a U.S. Digital Stockpile: a comprehensive library of open-source medical supply blueprints

  • Streamline pathways for the approval of open-source medical supply designs with regulators and testing facilities

Pantheon continues to support OSMS, with an extension of free access to the WebOps platform for another year, to help the organization accomplish these goals.    

“I think that being able to have the bandwidth to clarify this information and make it available on the web is fundamental to its potential to share information,” said Merlo.

OSMS Provides Everyday People with Tools to Contribute

“I think that being able to have the bandwidth to clarify this information and make it available on the web is fundamental to its potential to share information,”

- Sabrina Merlo on the importance of having a website for OSMS' ongoing mission of sharing designs for PPE and medical supplies

OSMS is an invaluable resource for those with the expertise and means to contribute to the PPE effort, which will be a need for the foreseeable future. It illustrates the power of the web to inspire, inform, and empower people who want to be a force for good in uncertain, challenging times.

Hero image from Ani Kolleshi via Unsplash



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