As COVID-19 sweeps America, a worldwide shortage of ventilators threatens the delivery of proper care to those affected by the respiratory disease.
In New York State, currently the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S, 30,000 ventilators will be needed to handle the projected influx of seriously ill patients in the next several weeks. But only 11,000 have been procured at the time of this writing, global supply has already been allocated, the Federal stockpile is down to approximately 10,000 units, and manufacturing these complex devices will likely take longer than required to meet the immediate and acute need of the next few weeks.
While the present ventilator shortage is dire in the U.S. and also in other affected countries, several innovative, low-cost alternatives have already been demonstrated. Here are several that may hold promise; I’m sure others will soon make their debut.
This no-frills, low-cost ventilator design, from home appliance firm GTech, is made from off-the-shelf parts and runs on compressed air.
The University of Oxford has prototyped a more sophisticated device, again using off-the-shelf components. The design could reportedly be ready for mass production in several weeks. 2 UK hospitals have agreed to test the device on current COVID-19 patients. Currently, the UK faces a shortage of some 8,000 ventilators.
In Idaho, Brent Regan, an individual who has designed ventilators, has designed an off-the-shelf ventilator solution, using off-the-shelf components, that he claims can be manufactured and distributed within a very short time window.
It’s heartening to see so much innovation and rapid-prototyping going on, given the gravity of the pandemic and the acute crisis in ventilator supply, and I’m sure we’ll see additional innovations in the weeks to come. But getting these devices properly tested and deployed to the health care institutions that need them will take nimbleness and responsiveness from the government agencies (e.g. the FDA in the U.S.) who must approve them before they can be cleared to enter service.
Let us hope that excessive red tape does not impede the delivery of any alternative ventilator designs that can be useful as the crisis continues to unfold.