When Igor Hincu founded a company making toys eight years ago, he had no idea he’d be saving lives.
He was studying engineering at the Romanian Military Academy, and friends from Moldova asked him to send them wooden toys. Carpentry was already in his genes –his grandfather was the most renowned carpenter in their village — so when he returned home, he opened a workshop. Knowing there was a lack of toys on the market, he decided to fill the niche. Since 2012, he has been organizing seminars with teachers and educators to learn more about their needs, and producing educational toys.
With the COVID-19 crisis, Igor made a quick decision to shift gears. When it became clear that Moldovan health workers often lack vital personal protective equipment, his workshop near Chisinau started producing plastic visors.
He borrowed the idea from Romania. Friends who produce visors there extended their initiative, and their prototype, to Moldova and were looking for workshops with laser cutters.
“Then I said — this is what we should do, this will be our contribution for the doctors, nurses, all those who are in the first line,” Igor says. “I started calling all providers of raw materials, to try to understand how these visors are made.”
The protective screens were authorized by Moldovan National Agency for Public Health, which means they are safe to use in hospitals. Within two weeks, Igor’s workshop and others had produced 24,000 visors and distributed them to 200 institutions through a partner courier service and some pickups directly from their workshop.
EduJoc is one of ten workshops that have joined this effort, started by the Association of Creative Companies. The extension of the Romanian project, viziere.md, uses its online platform to raise money for the production costs.
Igor can provide visors free of charge because he gets the raw materials from donations, while work, electricity and consumables are covered by his company.
In the first few days, the demand for visors on the site was 15,000 pieces. The equipment in the workshop makes eight pieces in 12 minutes, which is considered a quick process. Viziere.md estimates that the total necessity for visors in Moldova will be about 50,000 pieces, so they are almost halfway there.
Doctors say visors are useful because they bring additional protection. The risk of infection is highest when doctors pull off their medical goggles after examining a person who has COVID-19. Wearing visors prevents micro-particles from reaching their goggles.
Damian Gutu, director of the Ocnita hospital, traveled 270 kilometres to get 70 visors. “No hospital in Moldova was ready for this infection, and we didn’t prepare funds to buy the inventory we need in the fight against coronavirus,” he says.
Igor Hincu says they deliver visors not only to hospitals, but also to police departments, patrols and other employees who are on the frontlines of COVID-19.
EduJoc is also producing special boxes to house patients in intensive care. When patients in serious condition are intubated, doctors face a higher risk being infected. The boxes surround the patient on all sides, leaving only two holes through which medical workers can attend to them, reducing the risk of transmission. The boxes are under examination by the National Agency for Public Health, waiting for authorization. EduJoc is also working on the design of a disinfection tunnel for doctors.
“Many doctors in Moldova have COVID-19, which is a major challenge. And we have many patients in serious condition. That’s why it’s important that every one of us gets involved, including by staying home and respecting all regulations and restrictions imposed by authorities,” Igor says.
Frontline workers in Moldova face a big deficit of personal protective equipment, due to unprecedented demand. UNDP and other development partners are working to support the country in its response.
What UNDP didn’t realize is that they would one day be supporting the response through a toy company. Four years ago, Igor received a grant through the EU’s Confidence Building Measures Programme, implemented by UNDP, to buy a laser cutting device, which allowed him to expand his business. Now, it’s allowed him to provide help during a crisis.
This kind of creativity in adaptation, and businesses and community coming together, will help in the fight against COVID-19.
“This is a balance in life; good generates more good, when you don’t expect it. The EU, or the UNDP staff — they never thought that after four years their support would generate such results during these hard times,” Igor says. “We initially said that we will help children and parents. Now we help doctors, the health system, and the whole team of heroes who fight this crisis. Together we will win, because this solidarity, even from a distance, makes us more powerful.”
Photos: UNDP Moldova/Dinu Bubulici