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Romeo Botes boasts a podium finish in #ZAVentilatorChallenge

Across the globe, a major concern in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has been a shortage of medical equipment, particularly ventilators. As the number of confirmed cases increase on a daily basis in South Africa, the private and public sectors are preparing for the anticipated need, but it is still unclear whether we will have enough ventilators should the predicted surge in infections come.

With this need in mind, there have been a number of global movements aimed at producing easy-to-use, low-cost, low-complexity ventilators in high volumes. One such movement is Makers with Purpose, which recently hosted the #ZAVentilatorChallenge.

All South Africans were set the challenge to design (or optimise an existing design) and build a prototype for a ventilator for emergency use in a clinical and field setting. Romeo Botes, a lecturer in the School of Computer Science and Information Systems at the North-West University (NWU), heeded the call and was awarded third place for his prototype, VENT-ZA.

Wanting to make a worthwhile difference

According to Botes, the rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases had sparked a personal interest and he was looking for a way to help fight the pandemic. Designing a ventilator that could assist patients in severe cases became something worth looking into. Research on the Internet led him to an online community where people from around the world were designing and building ventilators, but on review, he found that most components that could be used were not practical or could not be easily acquired.

With these limitations in mind, Botes started to build a ventilator with the aid of his 3D printer. It was during this time that a close friend, Tom van den Bon from BinarySpace, told him about the #ZAVentilatorChallenge, and the rest, as they say, is history.

His prototype is based on automating the conventional ball valve mask (BVM) or Ambu Bag, which is a conventional, manually driven respirator device found in ambulances and hospitals. The BVM is automated by using mechanics to compress it, as a person would do during manual operation to create airflow. Apart from manufacturing the ventilator's structure by means of a 3D printer, Romeo also used commonly available servomotors. Variables such as tidal volume, respiratory rate, I:E ratio (inspiratory time: expiratory time) and breath-hold time can be set using a small display and keypad.

More about the #ZAVentilatorChallenge

The challenge was organised by Makers with Purpose together with sponsors DIYElectronics and Maxwell & Spark, with support from Denel and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

The winner of the competition received a cash prize as well as potential funding for a prototype, along with the opportunity for their design to be presented to the team at Denel and UKZN for assessment and possible production.

Contact person: Annette Willemse Contact details: [email protected]