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News Field Ventilators developed to treat COVID-19 patients in developing countries

A Staffordshire University professor has played a pivotal role in a project to develop a ventilator to save lives in developing countries.

The Field Ventilator developed to treat COVID-19 patients in developing countries
Image: The Field Ventilator developed to treat COVID-19 patients in developing countries

This is a rapidly escalating situation and there is an urgent need for ventilators in low and middle income countries (LMIC).  We know from our work with technical and clinical partners from various regions that there will be a much greater need over the coming weeks and months due to the rapid spread of COVID-19.

Professor Nachi Chockalingam

A UK team of academic and industrial engineers, manufacturers and clinicians have developed a potentially life-saving ventilator to treat coronavirus patients in poor and remote parts of the world.

The low-cost Field Ventilator uses a windscreen wiper motor, cam and lever system and a standard Ambu (Ambulance) Bag to ventilate the patient.  The unit is designed to run in remote parts of the world on battery, solar panels, wind turbines or mains power.

Staffordshire University Professor of Clinical Biomechanics Nachi Chockalingam, a liveryman with the Worshipful Company of Engineers, has played a pivotal role in taking the product from idea to testing in just three weeks.

He said: “This is a rapidly escalating situation and there is an urgent need for ventilators in low and middle income countries (LMIC).  We know from our work with technical and clinical partners from various regions that there will be a much greater need over the coming weeks and months due to the rapid spread of COVID-19.

“The Field Ventilator system is designed to be modular, with power management, alarms and monitoring available as an add-on module, should resources not be available locally.  Further, as the name implies, it is designed to function and withstand the much harsher environment found outside the average hospital, such as that found in a field hospital or rural community health service.”

The Field Ventilator is unique in that it permits the patient to be started off with manual Ambu bag ventilation which can be placed in the machine once the patient is stable and able to receive ventilation automatically.

Whilst the project is supported by several commercial entities, the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington has offered full support in testing the prototype and help in design optimisation.

Head of Engineering. Professor Paul Shore said: “As the UK’s National Metrology Institute, NPL has been very happy to support the Field Ventilator partners. NPL contributions focus on performance testing, providing verification data in support of the Field Ventilator product development. Creating a low cost, robust and yet easy to build medical ventilator is something we envisage can help save lives across the world.”

Chartered Engineer Brian Back, the Founder and CEO of Radio Data Networks and the not-for-profit Zero Pollution Network, led the project. He said: “We are keen to address the needs of the developing world.  During the design phase, it has been important to take into consideration factors like the climate, expertise, infrastructure and lack of power.

“Beyond Covid-19 we believe the system should still have a place for use in a village environment to supplement the manual manipulation of Ambu type bags during more regular procedures such as childbirth and minor surgery.”

Commodore Barry Brooks, Master of the Worshipful Company of Engineers, is helping coordinate the project. He added: “This project is a fantastic example of how our engineer liverymen can rise to the challenge at this hour of need.  We are grateful for all the support from the London Livery Company and our members.”  

The project is also backed by UCL University College London who have worked on a separate project with car giants Mercedes to develop new breathing devices to treat UK patients who have coronavirus.

Dr Tim Adlam, Associate Professor with UCL, said, "I am particularly concerned about the poorer parts of the world and fully support the Field Ventilator project to rapidly design, manufacture and deliver an ultra-low-cost ventilator for use in regions like East Africa where healthcare technology suitable for this environment is in very short supply.”

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