Combating shortages of medical equipment: how an effective low-cost device could be easily produced

A summary of new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine

Researchers have shown that a key piece of medical equipment can be easily and cheaply produced, while still performing as well as a one that can be bought.  

An increase in the number of people needing emergency care in hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a shortage of hospital equipment at some time points in some countries. This includes non-invasive ventilators. This device supports a person’s breathing by moving air in and out of the lungs via a facemask.

Researchers in this study aimed to develop and test an affordable and easy-to-build ventilator to tackle this shortage and make sure hospitals have the equipment they need.  

What did the study look at?

The research team designed, built and tested the ventilator. They compared it to a ventilator currently used in hospitals. Using 12 volunteers, they compared how comfy the devices were and how well the ventilators worked to support a person’s breathing. They created 16 different mock situations when a ventilator is needed in real-life, such as supporting a tight chest and breathing difficulties.

What do the results show?

The study participants reported that the feeling of relief provided by the new ventilator was the same as the one that can be bought. Across all 16 mock situations, the new ventilator worked effectively to support the lungs.

Why is this important?

This study describes in the detail how to design and produce this ventilator. Importantly, it has also showed that the equipment performs as well as the devices currently used in hospitals. The authors say no knowledge of ventilation is required to build the device, and only basic engineering skills are needed.

The researchers have made their description available for free so that it can be widely replicated. Low-cost devices, like the ventilator described here, could provide an effective solution to combat shortages and relieve pressure on healthcare systems when needed.

Read the original research paper

Title: Low-cost, easy-to-build non-invasive pressure support ventilator for under-resourced regions: open source hardware description, performance and feasibility testing

Keep up to date with information on Covid-19