By Gift Briton

At the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, Kenya only had about 500 ventilators serving over five million people. When the pandemic hit the country, ventilators were on high demand and commanded high prices creating urgent need to for more and affordable ventilators.

It is against this background that varsities have made effort to develop homegrown ventilators to meet the high demand and cost.

The University of Nairobi(UoN) is among the institutions that have locally developed a portable and remotely controlled critical care ventilator that is set to reduce the cost of current ventilators by more than 90%.

According to Dr. Peter Akuon, team leader and member of the production team UON, the device will help people with respiratory/ breathing problems in the country including patients in the local village hospitals without electricity even years after the COVID-19 is gone.

He says that the device’s main advantage over other existing commercial ventilators is its affordability since many intensive care units (ICU) services in the country are very expensive. It is estimated to cost around kshs. 500,000 (about USD 5000) compared to the current price of three to seven million Kenya shillings (about USD 30,000 to 50,000).

Additionally, with this critical care ventilator being portable, it can also be used in ambulances. It is adaptable to multiple power sources including solar power and hence can be used in remote locations without electricity

The machine, Dr. Akuon said, also incorporates smart intelligence and hence can be operated by health professionals while far from their patients(telemedicine), so that it would not be necessary for a doctor to move from hospital to another just to put a patient on a ventilator.

Since there are limited number of ICU experts in the country, this ventilator will help health professionals save more lives as they will be able to control the settings for breathing remotely and get feedback to see how the patient is doing.

UoN’s ventilator

The machine, he added, was built using an open source software from Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT) after the institution gave their patent out for free at the peak of COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been made from locally available materials and is expected to get Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) approval by December this year.

Thereafter, it is estimated to take up to three years to be deployed in order to help patients with breathing difficulties.

According to Dr. Akuon, to operate the machine remotely a medical specialist needs to send a short message service(SMS)to the machine, then it detects the authenticity of the doctor. After processing, the doctor would also be able to check if the machine is located in the  right place before operating it.

Meanwhile, this is not the first homegrown ventilator prototype to be developed in the country. In 2020, a team of students from Kenyatta University(KU) made a homegrown mechanical ventilator to respond to the shortage of ventilators in the country at the peak of COVID-19 pandemic.  So far, the students have developed three ventilators all of which have passed through the certification stage, with the developers hoping that the device will pass through demonstration stage to be actually used to save lives.

Unlike the KU’s ventilator, Dr. Akuon notes that this particular one can be operated manually should there be a power failure or any other emergency that comes up and the patient is not responding according to the settings.