All-girl Afghan robotic team tries to build cheap ventilators to help COVID-19 patients

KABUL, April 26 (Xinhua) — A team of six Afghan girls who won recognition at an international robotics contest has started to build low-cost ventilators as the coronavirus pandemic is on the rise in the country.

“The world is facing a health crisis. The world is suffering from a shortage of vital medical equipment for the fight against the pandemic, including respiratory ventilators,” Summaya Faruqi, 17, the team captain told Xinhua recently.

In the summer of 2017, the all-girl robotic building team known as the “Afghan Dreamers” won a silver medal during the FIRST Global Challenge event, a robotic contest that encourages young people to pursue careers in science, held in the United States.

“We conferred with medical doctors and experts on the design and production of the ventilators, and their suggestion was that the devices should not be manual, but operated by power,” Faruqi said.

The team of robot builders is from the country’s western province of Herat, where the disease is on the rise after thousands of Afghan refugees returned from hard-hit neighboring Iran. The region has the second highest number of cases of the virus and mortality rate after Kabul.

As of Sunday, official figures showed there were 1,531 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Afghanistan and 47 deaths across the country.

Some pundits say the exact figure could be much higher, due to limited testing kits available.

The team of girls are using car parts to achieve their dream of producing scores of low-cost ventilators as health authorities continue to try to increase their intensive care capabilities to save the lives of as many victims of the pneumonia-causing virus as possible.

The girls’ motive was to put their skills into use upon hearing that the Herat provincial health department only had four, old, poorly working ventilators with which to treat patients needing vital respiratory assistance.

Each ventilator costs 30,000 to 40,000 U.S. dollars in global markets, but the team members said they were able to build the much-needed devices for just 300 U.S. dollars each.

The Heart Regional Hospital officials said the prototypes have to first be checked and only used for the COVID-19 patients after the approval of the Afghan Public Health Ministry as well as the World Health Organization.

Afghan health authorities recently said that the country has to buy 50 more ventilators in addition to the 300 devices currently available to battle the pandemic.

“We are designing power-saving devices that are able to work 24 hours a day without interruption or any problems,” Flurance Puya, another member of the team, said.

According to Dr. Abdul Karim Tamanna, director of Herat provincial public health department, a ventilator with its adjustments is capable of pumping oxygen and helping patients breathe, after lung failure.

The ventilators are centered around a self-inflating plastic bag that the medical staff uses to help patients breathe. The girls have used a mechanical system in the artificial device to operate the bag automatically and accurately.

No country has so far sold ventilators to Afghanistan, but free devices from a Qatari charity foundation and a big medical supply along with some essential ventilators provided by China last month are aiding Afghanistan’s own battle against the pandemic.



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