Students Tackle Kenya’s Ventilator Shortage
Not long after COVID-19 began spreading in March, 16 students from different disciplines at Kenyatta University came together to make a difference.
They wanted to address the shortage of ventilators, which are critical in the treatment of severe cases. Global demand had dramatically inflated prices.
“We came up with the idea to make a ventilator when we heard that [they] were in short supply,” fifth-year pharmacy student Bernard Karanja told The Standard newspaper. “With almost all the countries in lockdown, we could not import them from elsewhere.”
In April, they built the prototype in less than a week. The students call it Tiba-Vent.
“Tiba is a Swahili word for cure,” 23-year-old electrical and electronics engineering student Fidel Makatia said in an interview on the website of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He is Kenyatta University’s student branch chairman.
“Tiba-Vent aims to increase the number of ventilators in Kenya from 500 units to more than 30,000. It will aid in treating COVID-19 and other respiratory ailments. It will also help make Kenya a manufacturing country for medical equipment.”
Kenya had confirmed 35,205 cases and 599 deaths as of September 6, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the country had tested just 474,477 out of nearly 54 million people.
Dr. David Misango, a consultant for Tiba-Vent and chairman of Critical Care Society of Kenya, emphasized the need for ventilators, saying each patient can be on a ventilator for two weeks or more.
“Unfortunately, there aren’t enough to go around,” he said in an Associated Press (AP) video. “If these machines are eventually approved by KEBS (Kenya Bureau of Standards) and mass-produced, they will go a long way in alleviating not only COVID-19 pneumonia, but pneumonia caused by other infectious agents.”
Mass production is the goal, said Shadrack Mambo, dean of the Kenyatta University School of Engineering and Technology. After passing government quality testing, Tiba-Vent began clinical trials in August.
“We know that there are only 270 ICU beds within the country, and not all of them are equipped with ventilators. Some probably share,” Mambo told the AP. “It is with this in mind that we have set up a production unit that should be able to do roughly about 50 ventilators per week.”
Makatia said lowering the cost was a key objective: Each Tiba-Vent will cost less than $20,000, compared to the $45,000 it takes to import a ventilator.
“It’s easier to manufacture since 90% of the materials used are acquired locally in Kenya,” he said.
Tiba-Vent has received attention around Kenya, attracting Trade Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina for a showcase and earning praise from President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“We are grateful that we have seen innovation out of this crisis,” Kenyatta said in an April televised address. “Students at Kenyatta University need to be applauded for developing a prototype of an inexpensive ventilator for use in our local hospitals.”