Nearly eight months after the coronavirus pandemic began whipping itself around the world, Afghanistan continues to struggle with its response. The poor, war-torn country lacks the healthcare infrastructure and technology necessary to adequately test, treat, and track COVID-19 cases.
“Afghanistan is on the edge of potential health, social and economic catastrophes caused by COVID-19 as the disease places a crippling burden on one of the 10 most fragile states in the world,” The Afghan Red Crescent Society explained in a statement.
However, a group of seven young women managed to bring some good news to their country recently with an unexpected healthcare innovation.
Afghan High School Students Design Affordable Ventilator
The all-girls Afghan Robotics Team in the city of Herat successfully invented an inexpensive new ventilator model that can be used to help COVID-19 patients throughout Afghanistan.
Afghani hospitals rarely have access to traditional ventilators, which at $20,000 each are cost-prohibitive in poor areas. The open-source mobile ventilator created by the Afghan Robotics Team is inexpensive, costing as little as $700 each. The lightweight machine design can even be powered by batteries that run for ten hours, minimizing dependence on unreliable electricity sources.
Robotic experts at Harvard supported the robotics team and guided them through the design process, which was partly based on a design from MIT.
“We are delighted that we were able to take our first step in the field of medicine and to be able to serve the people in this area as well,” Somaya Faruqi, an 18-year old member of the robotics team, told Reuters. “All members of our team feel happy because after months of hard work, we were able to achieve this result.”
The ventilator took nearly four months to complete. Though it must still undergo final testing from health authorities before it can be used in hospitals, Afghan officials are eager to implement the new technology. The entire country of Afghanistan has only 800 ventilators available to treat its rapidly-growing COVID-19 caseload.
“We appreciate the initiative and creativity in Afghanistan’s health sector…after they are approved, we will use these ventilators and we are determined to contract with companies so we can also export them,” said Health Ministry spokesman Akmal Samsor.
Other Notable Achievements From the Afghan Robotics Team
This isn’t the first time that the Afghan Robotics Team has garnered international attention. Back in 2017, the team traveled 500 miles from Herat to the capital of Kabul to secure visas for the First Global Challenge robotics competition held in Washington. They claimed silver medals in the competition for inventing a machine to sort dirty from clean water.
From Washington, the robotics team traveled to Europe and won the Entrepreneur Challenge at the International Robotex competition in Estonia.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Said T. Jawad, praised the girls in a statement. “They are an excellent example for people around the world of what can be accomplished by young Afghans if given the right support and the opportunity to excel in their education.”