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8 May 2020
Universities Rally To Fight Pandemic: UWC’s Ventilator Prototype

(Published - 8 May 2020)

Ventilators have become one of the most sought after health items during this Covid-19 pandemic. Essentially this is the machine that helps patients with severe lung infections to keep breathing.

As the number of positive cases increases around the world, so the need for these machines has grown. Last month the department of health told Parliament the country has 3 216 ventilators. It is estimated that the country will need about 7 000 ventilators when the number of cases peaks and more people with serious symptoms are admitted to hospital.

But work is afoot at higher education institutions, such as the University of the Western Cape, which is working on a ventilator prototype.

Professor Bernard Bladergroen of UWC’s South African Institute for Advanced Materials Chemistry (SAIAMC) said the team tasked with designs was asked to present a prototype by 19 May. But there have been some difficulties.

“One of the main challenges is not just about designing and producing a functional prototype, but also to ensure that the entire supply chain for all 48 system components is ready for manufacturing and assembly of the first 10 000 units envisaged by the end of July 2020,” he said.

Manufacturing the prototypes forms part of the National Ventilator Project led by the government, but also feeds into the need to begin developing and producing medical goods locally.

This project will not only mean the difference between life and death for patients with severe lung infections, but will also start forging strong academic-industry partnerships with both large companies and Small Medium and Micro Enterprises.

Bladergroen said: “When our students get exposed to such a partnership environment they develop a critical understanding of what is required in real life and how their theoretical knowledge can be transferred into something that society needs.”

UWC continues to make contributions to the fight against the pandemic, pioneering South Africa’s first-ever virtual graduation, helping to provide zero-rated internet access in rural areas, and providing thought leadership, research and expertise on everything from gender-based violence to viral genomics

This is a modified extract from “Universities rally to fight pandemics”, which originally appeared in the Mail & Guardian on 7 May 2020: