An all-girl robotics team in Afghanistan is using car parts to make affordable ventilators for coronavirus patients.
According to a recent article on the BBC, in 2017 the teenagers won a special award at an international competition in the US and they are now trying to produce ventilators by the end of May at a fraction of the market price.
Afghanistan has no more than 400 ventilators for the 38.9 million people that live in the country and currently, 178 deaths and more than 7,650 coronavirus cases have been confirmed. Authorities fear the situation could worsen overwhelming an already fragile healthcare system.
Team member, Hahid Rahimi, 17, told the BBC:
“It’s important even if we can save one life with our effort.”
They are part of a bigger group of high-achieving high school girls known as the “Afghan Dreamers”, from the western city of Herat where the first case of COVID-19 was reported.
The girls, aged between 14 and 17, are taking engine and battery parts from a Toyota Corolla – ubiquitous on the streets of Afghanistan – to produce a prototype they started designing after the Herat governor called for more ventilators as coronavirus cases rose.
They said their ventilators will give temporary relief to patients with respiratory difficulty in an emergency when standard ventilators are not available.
Team Captain, Somaya Faruqi. said:
“I feel so proud to be part of a team that is trying to do something meaningful to support our doctors and nurses – they are our heroes at this time.”
The shortage of ventilators is a worldwide problem and their market price of $30,000 (£24,000) to $50,000 (£40,700) means many poorer countries can’t afford them. But the teenagers say they are building the device for less than $600 each.
With shops closed and the city of Herat under lockdown, the challenge that the girls are facing is travelling outside the province to source parts.
The founder of the group, Roya Mahboob, says her team is still hoping to deliver the ventilators by the end of May.
“The team is working with local health specialists, as well as experts from Harvard University, to produce the prototype based on a design by Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”
Ms Mahboob said:
“They’re about 70% finished. The only thing we’re lacking is the air sensor, which we’re trying to source rather than build from scratch as it takes time.
“The first phase is complete and it was tested in a hospital two days ago. The team are working on phase two, which once completed can be introduced to the market.”
With a less than 30% female literacy rate in the country, the teenagers hope their project will inspire others and change the perception of women in the engineering industry.
Ms Mahboob said: “I’m glad President Ashraf Ghani has personally ordered the authorities to look into our project and to help us in any way possible.”
The Afghan health ministry is supporting the girls.
Waheed Mayar, a spokesperson for the health ministry, told the BBC said: “We appreciate their initiative but like any other scientific research, there are phases for it, like discovery and development, pre-clinical research and when it’s offered in the market it’s analysed and approved.” He added, “Patient safety is our priority so we have to make sure the device is tested on animals in laboratories first before being tried on coronavirus patients.”