Africa Coronavirus Resilience & Society

GeoTech Cues

March 31, 2021

The Ventilator To Africa Project and why it matters

By GeoTech Center

The Breath of Life Africa aims to deliver life-saving innovations where they’re most needed during the COVID-19 pandemic while establishing a foundation to foster global health resilience. 

Hundreds of scientists from some of the greatest research institutions in the world came together to invent the MVM ventilator in response to the Covid 19. Conventional ventilators cost tens of thousands of dollars. The MVM costs thousands, runs on open-source software, uses readily available parts and can be assembled quickly. It went from concept to FDA approval in six weeks. 

After projections in early 2020 that there wouldn’t be enough ventilators for Covid patients, the United States was over-supplied by August. In Africa, by contrast, there are fewer than 2,000 working ventilators to support hundreds of millions of people.

In Mid 2020, a multidisciplinary team of North Americans and African expatriates at The Mentor Project assembled to bring MVM ventilators to Sub-Saharan Africa. Coordinating with hospitals in seven West African countries, they identified over 500 intensive care beds with the infrastructure to operate ventilators.

While ventilators are counter-indicated for most Covid patients, they are essential for the most severely ill, estimated at 8%. Given the infrastructure required to  operate ventilators, the ability to scale capacity to treat the sickest patients is constrained in most African countries. Currently, these human beings are left to die. We aim to: 

  • Make ventilators available where they are needed and can be operated.
  • Train healthcare workers who will operate them.
  • Maximize the usability of each ventilator by establishing supply chains for ancillary equipment, supplies, and repair and work to lower the lifetime costs.
  • Minimize equipment loss through innovation and extraordinary partnerships.
  • Proactively identify unanticipated challenges by establishing information channels.
  • Actively address unanticipated challenges by engaging multi-disciplinary, global teams of experts: The Global Breath of Life Africa Network. 

Their mission

Deliver life-saving innovations where they’re most needed during the Covid pandemic while establishing a foundation to foster global health resilience. 

History of the Breath of Life Africa initiative

In late April 2020, one of our team members, a native of Timbuktu Mali, noted a spike in death among her community of origin. Trying to understand what was happening she reached out to the Regional hospital team and discovered the reality about COVID-19 in Africa. All COVID-19 tests performed at the regional hospital of Timbuktu at that time came back positive. The hospital was already over capacity and patients were placed under tents in the hospital yard with no possibility of medical evacuation to a more furnished establishment in the capital town Bamako. Travel by road being very risky due to armed rebels and no commercial planes deserving the town. The Timbuktu Regional hospital is not equipped to manage complicated cases of COVID-19. With a population of 56,000 souls Timbuktu has no ventilators available for the entire region. The entire country with a population of more than 20 millions inhabitants at the time of our assessment is disposing of 60 ventilators only. Becoming aware of this situation and several of our team members being from Africa we decided to act now to save as much lives as possible. We first contacted The Mentor Project (TMP) who helped us get started and introduced us with several low cost ventilators manufacturers. The Breath of Life Africa initiative was born.

Image: Lebogang Selahla, a healthcare worker poses from behind a cardboard selfie frame after receiving the Johnson and Johnson coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko