Afghan all-girls robotics team designs low-cost ventilator for COVID-19 patients
The device is easy to carry, can run on battery power for 10 hours, and costs roughly $700 to produce, compared with the $20,000 price of a traditional ventilator. It still has to undergo final testing from health authorities before it can be used.
An all-female Afghan Robotics Team, which has won international awards for its robots, has created a low-cost, lightweight ventilator to treat COVID-19 patients. The group of seven young women started work in March on the open-source, low-cost ventilator as the pandemic hit the war-torn nation.
It took the team almost four months to finalise the ventilator, which is partly based on a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) design, and they received guidance from experts at Harvard University.
"We are delighted that we were able to take our first step in the field of medicine and to be able to serve the people in this area as well. All members of our team feel happy because after months of hard work, we were able to achieve this result,” 18-year-old high school student Somaya Faruqi Faruqi told Reuters.
The device is easy to carry, can run on battery power for 10 hours, and costs roughly $700 to produce, compared with the $20,000 price of a traditional ventilator.
Although the ventilator still has to undergo final testing from health authorities before it can be used, officials welcome it in a country with only 800 ventilators to treat the fast-growing number of coronavirus cases in a health system damaged by decades of war.
Health Ministry spokesman Akmal Samsor said once the ventilators were approved they would be rolled out in Afghan hospitals and the design shared with the World Health Organization.
"We appreciate the initiative and creativity in Afghanistan's health sector...after they are approved, we will use these ventilators and we are determined to contract with companies so we can also export them," he said.
Afghanistan has recorded around 35,500 COVID-19 cases and 1,181 deaths, though experts warn the true count is probably far higher due to low testing rates.
The Red Crescent Society in a statement last week said: "Afghanistan is on the edge of potential health, social and economic catastrophes caused by COVID-19 as the disease places a crippling burden on one of the 10 most fragile states in the world."
"The real toll of the pandemic on the Afghan population is expected to be much higher and remains under-reported due to limited testing and weak health systems," it added.
Red Crescent Secretary General Nilab Mobarez said acute protective equipment shortages and difficulties in accessing remote regions were hampering its COVID-19 response. But it was expanding mobile health teams and adding thousands of community volunteers to try and detect and prevent the disease, which it said it expected to spread over coming weeks.
Afghanistan's health department had said it was concerned that less than a third of those confirmed to have the disease were women, which officials believed was due to a lack of female access to healthcare in a deeply conservative society.