Kabul – A group of Afghan girls has designed the prototype of a cheap ventilator that can help patients, suffering from the novel coronavirus who are struggling, to breathe.
Members of the all-female robotics team known as the “Afghan Dreamers” – aged between 12 and 18 years old – live in the country’s western Herat province.
The six-member team took up the challenge when the virus reached their province after thousands of people fled neighbouring Iran to escape the pandemic.
Local officials said they were concerned about lack of ventilators to help patients severely affected by the disease.
The ‘Afghan Girls’ Robotic Team’, as they are also known, created a prototype for a ventilator costing around $600.
A standard ventilator costs an average of $30,000 on the global market.
Spare parts from Toyota Corolla cars and motorcycles were the only tools available to the teenagers as they built the device during the lockdown.
A physician from Harvard University and scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were among the experts the team approached for guidance.
“The ventilator is almost completed and only needs an air sensor to work similar to a standard device,’’ said Roya Mahboob, the tech entrepreneur, who sponsors 50 girls including the robotics team.
Mahboob has been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.
In the absence of the air sensor, the team’s ventilator can pump air into the lungs of patients for two hours.
Nahid Rahimi, 18, who joined the group last year, told dpa that the team had tested the device in a hospital and that experts approved of it.
Some improvements are still needed though, she said.
The team also plans to present a new device in the near future called the “Virus Killer”.
It scans and kills viruses on surfaces in seconds, using a UV light.
“The team has done a brilliant job,’’ Ms Mahboob said, noting the country’s lack of resources and the ongoing war.
“At a time as the world is fighting the coronavirus crisis, the Afghan girls took a step forward and did what they could.’’
The Afghan Dreamers have been honing their skills for years but in 2017, when hoping to attend an international robotics competition in Washington, the team was denied a visa by the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
The ensuing headlines reportedly led the U.S. President Donald Trump to intervene and the girls returned from the event with a silver medal for “courageous achievement”.
Since then, the team has participated in many other competitions from Canada to Mexico.
The girls’ robots have won prizes including the 2018 Rookie Inspiration Award and the 2019 Asia Game Changer award.
Their homeland had recorded some 10,000 cases of the virus by Saturday and a death toll of 216 that includes at least 11 health workers.
Of Afghanistan’s 37 million people, only 30,000 have been tested since the country reported its first case in February.
The country has limited testing capabilities and a fragile health-care system after four decades of war and conflict.
There are fears of further, undetected outbreaks in Afghanistan, where there are only 400 ventilators and 3,000 beds for patients suffering from COVID-19.
Many in the country do not believe that the virus is particularly serious and there is a rumour that the president is exaggerating about the disease in order to attract aid.
However, the number of cases continues to climb.
“If the situation continues like this, we may see a major crisis and tragedy in Afghanistan in June and July,’’ Health Minister, Firuzuddin Firuz, warned recently.