Mon. Jun 1st, 2020

Applauding pro bono Services


By Syed Shamsuddin

UNDENIABLY, the exigency resulting from the current crisis the world over necessitates maximal pro bono services to help cope with emergent healthcare needs. It is something that assumes the centrality in the current situations generally while it becomes all the more essential particularly in the case of the poor nations sans the wherewithal, to put it quite unexaggeratedly. Despite immense progress witnessed by humankind in science and technology, the global healthcare landscape is still cumulatively pathetic as the current pandemic has brought it to the fore.  Take the example of the developed world,  it is said that the US has about 170,000 ventilators but the experts there are worried about a shortfall since as many as 1 million Americans may need to be placed on ventilators at some point. In Italy, the situation is even direr. This dearth is to such an extent that the doctors have had to choose between which patient should get a ventilator and live and which don’t and die.

If Pakistan is to avoid a similar scenario, the country will need more ventilators and that too, so fast. According to the Chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), there are currently 200 ventilators in all of Pakistan of which half would be available for Covid-19 patients, with plans to eventually acquire 10,000 additional ventilators. A recent reference is made to a recent paper published by researchers from Harvard and John Hopkins University on the number of ventilators required by cities with major Covid-19 outbreaks that would no way near enough. If, God forbid, such a scenario occurred in Karachi, with an estimated population of 25 million, the city would require between 5000 to 12000 ventilators – they can cost up to $20000 and that too, in juxtaposition to a low global availability.

Necessity is The Mother of Invention

These are in short, the scenarios which prompted creative minds work to develop and come up with cost-effective, emergency ventilator that can be used to cope with the shortage of the medical devices during the coronavirus pandemic. Ventilator prototype, striving to improve material quality and function with each prototype. Drue Placette, of CANopener Labs, Santiago is reportedly working with a team, which includes computer software students, doctors, and architect and San Antonio District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino, to come up with a prototype. “The whole goal was to make it so that it can be rapidly made, rapidly deployed,” Placette reportedly said. “They are now cut out of aluminum. It is all stuff you can source locally.” It is the fifth prototype the group has designed. With each prototype, the group improves the material quality and function. They have been working on it for a week. Trevino said the project shows the passion of San Antonians who want to make a difference in their communities. We are looking at an accelerated approval for limited use, so we are working to create a fast track, he said.  As contained in a ‘piece’ from Arshad Chaudhry making rounds on social media these days, a group of dedicated and patriotic Pakistanis from all over Pakistan have got together to find an expeditious, effective, cheap, practicable solutions in the face of the current pandemic. This group of volunteers is reportedly headed by Dr. Bilal Siddiqui. They are striving to do it by using 3D printing technology to make prototype, low cost ventilators.  Indeed, a great urge and an intense passion drove them to dedicate their skills and knowledge for ameliorating the lot of the sufferings of the common people.

The group is said to comprise bio-medical professionals, engineers, educational experts, diasporas, resource-mobilizes and other smaller groups. The Pakistani professionals aim generating funds on ‘self-help’ basis with a view to produce equipment – 3D printing and manufacturing ventilators, valves etc. to respond to the frontline needs locally. This is, in sum, the primary objective of the group of the experts not only to produce ventilators designed exclusively for the Covid-19 affected but also to provide oxygen to four patients from one machine at the same time saying they have made progress to some extent.

Elucidating, Fawad Bajwa spokesperson of the group  says that Dr Bilal Siddiqui PhD is leading the group of the volunteers to supply medical equipments in the event of the apprehended Coronavirus spread. Bilal and other volunteers were much alarmed at probable spread of the virus in Pakistan in seeing that currently the healthcare system of Pakistan unable to cope with situations ahead faced an immense pressure. It was hurdled mainly by the glaring deficiency of the direly needed medical equipment. There is a horrific non-availability of the equipment so direly needed in the circumstances. This is fundamentally what prompted Dr Bilal with his other professionals to contemplate cheap and quick solutions to tide over the imminent situations in the country. In the meantime, a professor from Mardan is reported to have claimed the preparation of a cheap sanitizer in seeing that main problem associated with Covid-19 is its passing  from to the other so quickly which brings it to the fore the significance of preventing its spread in order to contain it.

It is pertinent to reiterate that the group under reference comprising over 100 professionals – engineers, medical experts, professors, businessmen – is redoubling its efforts tirelessly every succeeding day for expeditious solutions. Its main objective is centered on producing cheap ventilators, portable oxygen supplying system, face-masks, protective its, breathing valves, viral media tubes, remote thermometers allied tools in order overcome the situation by mass-producing them. This also includes renovate/repairing of the ventilators in hand by way of arranging funding support with regard to 3D printing, manufacturing. Yet another development in the news the other day is that the Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology headed by Mj Gen® Dr. Azhar Mahmud KIyani is said to have come up with the solution of multi-oxygenating device meaning it can extend oxygen to four or even more patients at a time from single facility.

It is noteworthy that the Punjab health department is referred to as saying that there are over 1100 ventilators which are insufficient compared to the feared surge in number of Covid-19 patients. The health minister of Punjab Yasmin Rashid is related to having expressed her concerns in this respect. On the other hand, due to the fast spread of the pandemic world over, the countries producing these machines  like  US, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and Japan – major manufacturers  of the ventilators are said to have put on-hold their exports  excepting however, China which has not imposed any such a ban.

As to the current ventilation facilities in the country, it is said that there are 1bout 150 ventilators in KPK, 49 In Balochistan, Those in Punjab sector hospitals nearly 1300,{Lahore government hospitals around 250. However, the Lahore Kidney & Liver Institute (PKLI) which is a state-of-the-art facility having  100 brand new ventilators}, private sector hospitals in Lahore approx 475 ventilators, so on and so forth. This makes it well construable the state of affairs in the peripheral areas like Gilgit-Baltistan being devoid of such facilities.

Still there are many others as well, as brought forth by media in the context of trying to make a ventilator in the same manner; and more are making efforts in this area. If any of these groups can develop a successful prototype, it can be a’ game changer’ in the fight against Covid-19 in Pakistan and other developing countries. Compared to ventilators (imported) from abroad, this prospective machine will be very cheap because it will be made locally. They claimed that within ten days, they will be close to making a prototype or Insha Allah, will have almost done the whole process of making it and gone for testing will be ensued by Phase-II id est trying to mass-produce it to cater fully to the needs.

It is hope that the programme will see the light of the day soon and they will be successful enough in achieving their dream of making the facility available to at least less severe cases of Covid-19 to alleviate some pressure on the ICUs. They claim that even if the prototype is not successful, the research may lead to breakthroughs and further innovation in the effort to provide low cost medical treatment to the people. “We want to open-source so that there is no IP, there is no copy right, everyone can just take the design and put it to use for humanity. We know we will get somewhere. Even if we do not have such a breakthrough during this pandemic, our effort will become instrumental in assuaging the situation in other ways”, they say.

Amidst the gloomy scenario wrought by the pandemic, a gladdening development is the viewing recently on ‘dunya TV Talk’ on 31.03.2020 in which the Sind’s education minister, Saeed Ghani disclosing during a talk on how he is tested ‘negative’ at Indus hospital as well as in another facility recently after having earlier been diagnosed with Covid-19. Briefly stating his experience, he said that he felt no symptoms whatsoever but, nonetheless, was declared a carrier of the virus which in its wake led him to self-isolation.  After having been confirmed positive, was advised to take measures like taking simple measures like doing gargles, taking a simple medicine for fever or cough and the like as no other prescriptions can be made for the sufferers as the pandemic is incurable. Explaining the reasons of first going for the test, he said he and four other ministerial colleagues were earlier hectically involved in certain ministerial functions and consequent interactions which created doubts in mind and the reasons for going for the test after which he had to self-isolate after being declared ‘positive’, he said this is indeed a great news generative of hope and allaying scare among all such segments who are much afraid of the fast spread of the pandemic in Pakistan. The example of promptly healing of the minister sufficiently conveys the message that the disease can be overcome by way of resilience albeit there is dire need of strictly abiding by the universally applied ‘guidelines’ to prevent the spread. Let us all pray for the success of those engaged in the pro bono services as afore-said which when sees the light of the day will become greatly instrumental in bringing about an amazing transformation in the rickety healthcare systems of the poor nations.


The writer is a Gilgit-based freelance contributor, blogger. He can be reached at Email: shamskazmi.syed@gmail.com


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