A group of five Maltese professionals has pioneered a low-cost ventilator inspired by motorcycle engines, in order to address the global shortage of the essential medical tool.
It’s spearheaded by Maltese water treatment engineer Marco Cremona, who felt compelled to take on the challenge after COVID-19 dried up his work.
“When the pandemic hit in March, I was left with little work. I remember discussing the sudden demand for ventilators, which are already expensive pieces of equipment,” Cremona explained to Lovin Malta.
That was the lightbulb moment for Cremona – who then took on the challenge to invent an original low-cost ventilator, together with coding expert Klaus Conrad, doctor Ryan Farrugia and chemical engineer Mark Camillieri.
The availability of ventilators became a hot issue since COVID-19 went global. They are medical tools used by doctors to assist patients with breathing difficulties – a severe symptom experienced by some who caught the virus.
The main challenge when building a ventilator is the accuracy needed to treat intensive care patients. In order to work, they need to be able to deliver strict, programmed volumes of oxygen-enriched air to the patient at a specific pressure and assist in exhalation without causing lung damage.
Even before the public health crisis-induced sky-rocket demands for the devices, ventilators could go for anywhere between €20,000 to €40,000.
Cremona’s device is based on a piston in a cylinder mechanism found in motorcycle engines. Four months after the first sketches, the prototype was completed and passed primary tests on a lung simulator.
The prototype cost the team less than €1,000, less than 10% of market ventilators. It was built within a garage with 3-D printers.
The team plans on releasing the blueprints for the device on open-sources for other engineers to scrutinise and built their own.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had to put the project on hold because we haven’t secured funding for it,” Cremona lamented after his project failed to win funding through the state’s COVID-19 research and development fund.
“But we’re still looking to secure investors who are interested. The potential is endless – it could help solve a severe shortage of ventilators in say Africa. Given that the ventilator can be built with days, they can be useful in addressing a shortfall in conventional ventilators in developed countries too.”
In fact, there are less than 2,000 working ventilators for hundreds of millions of people in public hospitals across 41 African countries, the World Health Organisation says, compared to over 170,000 in the United States. Ten countries in the continent have none at all.
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