Nigerian Air Force Develops Emergency Ventilator
In the battle against COVID-19, ventilators have proven crucial to the survival of many, but they are in desperately short supply across much of Africa. That need inspired the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) to announce that it has developed its own version of an emergency ventilator and plans to mass-produce it.
Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, chief of the air staff, unveiled two of the ventilators in late May in Kaduna. Researchers from the Air Force Research and Development Center and the Air Force Institute of Technology Kaduna developed the technology in partnership with the faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.
The spread of COVID-19 has created worldwide demand for ventilators, driving up prices for the expensive technology. Abubakar said that fact created an opportunity for Nigeria to develop its own locally made version of the machines by collaborating with other agencies within the government.
“I am glad to note that the tests were successfully completed, and the equipment is now ready for human testing and certification by relevant agencies,” Abubaker said at the unveiling. During the announcement, all attendees wore masks and sat separated by several empty seats to ensure proper social distancing.
Ventilators provide mechanical breathing support for patients with severe respiratory distress. In some patients, the virus behind COVID-19 causes the tiny air sacs in the lungs to fill with fluid, making breathing difficult.
Air Vice Marshal Paul Jemitola, the NAF director of research and development, said the development of the machines, known as NAF E-vents, represents the Air Force’s shift toward homegrown solutions to national problems.
“The ventilators will go a long way to help not only coronavirus patients but also others with respiratory illnesses,” Capt. Osichinaka Ubadike, the leader of the research team, told the BBC.
As of June 1, Nigeria had recorded more than 10,000 cases of COVID-19 and 287 deaths. Across the continent, the number of infections has grown to more than 147,000 and continues to climb, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control.
The development of the NAF E-vent comes at a time when the rapid spread of COVID-19 has caught many strained African health systems without adequate equipment to care for those most affected.
In April, the World Health Organization estimated that there were 2,000 ventilators on the continent, most of them in South Africa. The International Rescue Committee estimated that Nigeria had 100 ventilators, the Central African Republic had three, and Somalia had none.
Since then, the Nigerian Air Force has not been alone in meeting the demand for ventilators. Nigeria’s National Agency for Science, Engineering and Infrastructure unveiled its own ventilator design in April. Nigerian startup Bennie Agro Team also is working to develop locally made ventilators to fight the disease.
Private production of ventilators and other critical medical equipment has begun to ramp up across the continent. The list of people looking for solutions includes Zimbabwean billionaire philanthropist Strive Masiyiwa, co-founder of the Higherlife Foundation and African Union special envoy charged with developing market-driven responses to COVID-19.