I’m a mechanical engineer and my professional life has mostly been spent in developing robots for surgery. Ian Joesbury, whom I knew through our work together as trustees of the IMechE (Institution of Mechanical Engineers), asked if I’d be interested in joining the exovent team, and I was privileged and excited to do so. It’s great to be part of a group of enthusiastic volunteers, many of them experts in their field, working together on a project that really will make a step-change difference in the treatment of respiratory disease, including Covid 19. I’ve always enjoyed working on innovative projects that involve leading engineers and medics pooling their knowledge, and Exovent is a great example of this.
Whilst the exovent team has developed a very impressive professional negative pressure ventilator, now undergoing the clinical trials required for regulatory approval, my particular interest and contribution is in a much more basic version ventilator which can be built, operated and maintained in low-income countries. I am a fan of Jugaad innovation, which promotes a frugal and flexible approach to product development in resource-scarce environments. With much help from other exovent team members, I’ve built a low-cost basic DIY negative pressure ventilator, using components that might reasonably be found in a medium-size town in a low-income country. It’s been a great lockdown project and I’ve learnt so much. This model is only a proof of concept, but it has provided key information that could inform the design of a user-ready model, with many other ideas from Exovent team members.
I’m by no means the only exovent team member to have built a DIY ventilator, and I guess the next step will be for all of us to meet and pool ideas to specify a version that includes the best bits of each. Then we can build and test a few, and once we’ve shown safety and efficacy we can make our design and build instructions freely available on the web. Exovent already has international partnerships in various countries who could promote local manufacture.
I am a keen land rover overlander, and I’ve led expeditions across remote areas of Africa and Asia where I’ve seen the result of well-meaning rich donors gifting high tech equipment into an environment where the resources to maintain and use it don’t exist. The products that are useful are the ones that are cheap, robust, simple, preferably locally made, and don’t depend on reliable access to electricity or consumables.
WHO (World Health Organisation) statistics report respiratory diseases are leading causes of death and disability in the world. For example, about 65 million people suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and 3 million die from it each year, making it the third leading cause of death worldwide. About 334 million people suffer from asthma, the most common chronic disease of childhood, affecting 14% of all children globally. If an open-source Jugaad-style exovent design was available, every hospital in the world could easily have one – or more – offering a step change in health and in hope.
Dr Patrick Finlay, PhD, CEng FIMECHE