We woke up today to the grim news that the coronavirus pandemic has just hit seven figures, racing past the 1 million milestone, as countries around the world scramble to slow its exponential increase. The new coronavirus, which erupted four months ago in Wuhan, China, has claimed over 53,000 lives and put most of the countries around the world on a lockdown. But while several cases see patients with mild or no symptoms—requiring only rest and increased fluid intake and painkillers at best to get through—there are also the most severe cases in which one biomedical device has become indispensable: the ventilator.
“Ventilators are to this war what missiles were to World War II,” New York governor Andrew Cuomo said at a recent press conference. But around the world, ventilators are facing massive shortages, resulting in some doctors having to choose between who gets access to it and who doesn’t—basically who lives and who dies. In this scenario, an economical toaster-sized ventilator in India is giving some hope.
Deepak Agrawal, a professor of neurosurgery at Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), and robotics scientist Diwakar Vaish, joined hands to develop what they call the world’s cheapest ventilator. It’s called AgVa, and costs Rs 1.5 lakh (approx $2,000), which is a fraction of the price of other ventilators that usually cost around $10,000. It weighs just 3.5 kilos which makes it portable, easy to move, and not requiring much power to operate. It will also help patients who are not as critical, move back home. "In case you want to convert a hotel into an ICU, you can simply put this device and start working as it doesn't require other infrastructure," said Vaish. This version of AgVa is actually an upgrade on an older model that the duo have improved upon by incorporating a patent pending negative ion generator that indicates the virus.
The AgVa plant near the capital New Delhi has been given permission by the Indian government to work flat-out to make what could be a key weapon when India has to fully confront the pandemic. Maruti Suzuki, India's biggest passenger car maker, has pledged to help AgVa scale up production after the government called on all auto firms to contribute to the anti-coronavirus effort.
AgVa is joined by several other companies racing to make low-cost ventilators, which will be key instruments for India’s cash-starved healthcare system. A start-up in Pune called Nocca Robotics is creating a similar low-cost ventilator, which is projected to cost Rs 50,000 ($700). At Nagpur’s New Era hospital, doctors have developed a tool which allows eight patients to be put on a single ventilator at the same time. Business conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra has also developed a ventilator that will cost a mere Rs 7,500 ($100), though they’ve now been accused of intellectual theft. Till we all can finally breathe easy again, it’s the doctors and engineers behind these machines who are racing against time for what is literally a matter of life and death.
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