UJ to develop open-source ventilators as Covid-19 cases rise

“Through our repair and maintenance undertaking, this assignment will build on the principles of circularity and create employment opportunities since there are large amounts of equipment that can be repaired and calibrated for reuse.”

DURBAN – Initial reports from researchers indicated that between 40-70percent South Africans were likely to contract the Covid-19. But with the country’s poor health system those who could have survived the diseases may die.

According to media reports, the public healthcare system has 1 111 operational ventilators with 2 105 operational in the private healthcare system. It is clear from the expected number of infections that this will not suffice.

South Africa to date, has 5 647 Covid-19 cases with the death toll standing at 103.

In response to this, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) is coordinating efforts to further develop open-source ventilators, support repair and maintenance efforts to bring out of warranty equipment into service.

A multidisciplinary team of engineers and healthcare practitioners at the UJ led by Dr Deon Sabatta and Dr Samson Masebinu have identified several simple, safe and scalable open-source designs that could meet the strict specifications for use with patients if further developed and tested.

“Ventilators are complex medical devices and it is more intricate than simply squeezing a bag. Our product includes devices such as pressure sensors, flow sensors and a number of control algorithms. It can, therefore, be set up to perform more advanced ventilation tasks such as Pressure Support Ventilation (PSV) or Synchronous Intermittent Mandatory Ventilation (SIMV). This is a step up in ventilation support by being able to assist patients further when they are tired from being on Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) systems for extended periods of time,” said Sabatta.

The UJ Process Energy and Environmental Technology Station (UJ-PEETS) is supporting efforts to identify decommissioned ventilators at public and private hospitals to bring out of service equipment back online. They are focusing their efforts on e-Waste reduction in a circular economy to support the medical engineering maintenance programmes at hospitals.

“Through our repair and maintenance undertaking, this assignment will build on the principles of circularity and create employment opportunities since there are large amounts of equipment that can be repaired and calibrated for reuse, especially beyond our borders in South Africa. There is no sector more critical at this moment than healthcare, which is why we are proud to play a role in helping to produce and revamp these critical life-saving devices,” explained Masebinu.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the skills shortage in facility and technical equipment maintenance at health care facilities, not only in South Africa but on the continent. The UJ-PEETS team said it is gearing up to support and upskill SMEs in the clinical technical services sector to deliver on the 500 percent to 1000 percent growth in ventilator production needed globally to prevent unnecessary deaths due to the shortage.

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