Studies have shown that while most people with COVID-19 develop only mild or uncomplicated illness, approximately 14% develop severe disease that requires hospitalization and oxygen support, and 5% require admission to an intensive care unit with assisted breathing using a Medical Ventilator (World Health Organization, 2020). This has led to un-precedented rise in the demand for ventilators far out-stripping the capacity of even the developed economies given that the same facilities have to be used by high dependency patients with other conditions. The ventilators on the market are prohibitively expensive for low income countries in Africa. The limited number of ventilators currently existing in Africa, are imported. This reliance on absolute importation could prove costly given the surging global demand for ventilators on the backdrop of limited production capacity.
Several Universities and Companies put in place efforts to develop low cost open source ventilators. Notable initiatives include: Bulamu Ventilator, Makerere University; UB Ventilator, University of Botswana; Project RAR, Cheikh Anta Diop University; DIY Pressure Control Ventilator, Michigan State University; E-Vent, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; JamVent, Imperial College London; Open Source Ventilator, University of Florida; Open Source Ventilator, Vanderbilt University; COVID-19 Rapid Response Ventilator, Stanford University, Administration; UCL-Ventura Breathing Aid, University College of London & Mercedes AMG HPP; among others.
Uganda has a population of over 44 million people living in 135 Districts supported by 14 Regional Referral Hospitals with 12 Functional High Dependency Care Units equipped with a total of 55 functional beds and an estimated 100 Ventilators. Uganda's COVID-19 situation is still evolving and in the event of sustained transmission, there will likely be a sharp rise in the number of severely affected persons who may require assisted ventilation to mitigate the respiratory complications developed due to COVID-19.
Makerere University and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation are collaborating in the development of a Low Cost Open Design Ventilator that can be manufactured locally. The several Colleges involved at Makerere University are coordinated through the Resilient Africa Network at Project at the School of Public Health, while the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation is acting through Kiira Motors Corporation.
This collaborative effort is envisaged to bolster the country's surge capacity to provide critical care in case the demand for such care increases even post the COVID-19 pandemic. The collaboration has adapted open access design from the University of Florida. The Team has developed a fully functional prototype. The project in this pilot stage will develop a regulatory compliant Ventilator Model with all necessary animal and clinical trials and associated certification. This initiative will inform interventions toward developing Uganda’s Capacity for manufacturing key medical equipment for import substitution and regional export.
The ventilator is designed for application beyond COVID-19 to other conditions that require assisted breathing.