More than nine years of conflict in Syria has had a disastrous effect on the country’s economy and has devastated its healthcare system. It has, thus far, been relatively unaffected by the global pandemic; it has recorded only 141 cases and six deaths, although, as with other countries, the true number of cases is likely higher.
The country went into lockdown in March. Its borders, schools and restaurants were closed and movement between provinces was restricted.
The stakes are high. A pandemic of the scale of COVID-19 threatens to shake an already-vulnerable economy that is reeling under a market collapse, rampant inflation, currency depreciation, and sanctions.
Yet one of Syria’s great strengths is its young people, who were fast to respond. They are putting to work their entrepreneurial skills newly acquired through a UNDP initiative called JumpStart, which supports innovative graduation projects in applied engineering and helps transform them into start-up businesses.
Putting to good use generous funds by the Government of Japan, UNDP brings together young innovators and entrepreneurs across Syria to come up with ways to help address the COVID-19 crisis. We plan to support the sustainability of 12 youth-led start-ups engaged in similar efforts, in the hope of scaling up preparedness and readiness to face the outbreak across Syria.
UNDP’s JumpStart Initiative was launched in 2019 and has supported 40 youth-led innovative start-ups across the country with training, production tools and equipment. More than 50 percent of the start-ups specialized in mechanical and medical engineering.
In Aleppo, three new mechanical engineering graduates Ahmad, 26, Mohamed, 24, and Ali, 26, saw an opportunity in the rapidly emerging need for products that can support the country’s COVID-19 response. They teamed up to design and produce disinfection and protective equipment.
“Healthcare workers are doing an amazing job on our behalf. We wanted to support and complement their efforts, to the best of our ability,” Ali said.
His friend Mohamed said that the conflict, which has been going on for most of their lives, has helped young people learn to adapt to difficult circumstances.
“For our products, we knew we could only depend on equipment and materials available from the local market,” he said.
Using electrostatic technology, they were able to build a portable aerosol applicator, which provides optimal application of disinfectants with consistent coverage. Their device works well for sterilizing hospitals, surgery rooms, and medical facilities.
They also built a portable and foldable disinfection tunnel with motion activated sprayers that can be used for individuals at the entrance of the public spaces.
Not content with that, they went on to produce automatic disinfectant dispensers that use motion-activated compressors and can be placed on any container, as well as 3D-printed face shields.
In Damascus, Razan, 23, a biomedical engineer has directed her energy to producing 3D-printed multiple-use masks with replaceable filters.
“Before the crisis, we were producing smart upper limbs prosthetics,” she says. “We quickly adapted and stepped up our production arrangements to face the new threat.”
In Homs, another group of young engineers, electronics and communication engineers, Amr, 26, Nour, 25, and control systems engineer, Abdul Kadir, 26, joined forces with 12 other volunteers to make 3D-printed face shields through six home-based start-ups. They put the seven 3D printers to work around the clock in their homes, maximizing production during the pandemic lockdown. They have already donated more than 600 face shields to health facilities across the city. “In the face of this new extra threat, we felt the need to use our expertise and the few resources available to us to step up support to our community,” Amr said. “Especially we wanted to protect health workers who are putting themselves in harm’s way to protect us.”
Written by Asma Nashawati, Communications Associate, UNDP Syria; photos by UNDP Syria