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Made in Costa Rica: TEC and UCR work to create emergency ventilators for patients with COVID-19

MARCH 27th 2020

*Article originally published in Spanish by La Nación: https://bit.ly/2WLOmOa
*Photo Credit: UCR


The Technological Institute of Costa Rica (TEC) and the University of Costa Rica (UCR) work on separate projects to create lower-cost rapid production emergency ventilators for COVID-19 patients, in Costa Rica.

The announcement was made amidst an urgent purchase of 288 devices from abroad by the Costa Rican Social Security Administration (CCSS).

The devices cost $10 million and will not arrive in Costa Rica for at least two months.  Based on experiences in other countries, respirators are vital for treating an average of 15% of patients who become critically ill with novel coronavirus requiring artificial respiration.

In order to reduce response times and prevent deaths arising from the lack of emergency ventilators, TEC research groups are working to create artificial respirators to increase the supply of these machines.

One of the proposals, developed by the Industrial Production Department of the School of Engineering, uses an original mechanical ventilator design.  The device will be produced using low-cost 3D printing of acrylic parts.

Part of the team visited the National Rehabilitation Center (CENARE), where they received guidelines for effective implementation of these devices for use at that location which has been upgraded and outfitted exclusively for the care of Covid-19 patients.

TEC has also proposed a respirator based on a set of special pistons and adaptors producing oxygen by pressure compression of a bag that is capable of controlling the pressure of the air supplied to patients.

The model is based on a commercially available prototype, originally from England, with the advantage that it is low cost and can be rapidly fabricated.

“We know that the production of this equipment for hospital use requires following several protocols.  However, we can’t wait until we have all the protocols to start design and implementation.  It’s best to have an already proven prototype and await the protocols to shorten the timeframe in the event of an emergency,” said engineer, Adrian Quesada, professor of the School of Science and Materials Engineering and part of the research group.

Engineer, Luis Paulino Mendez, Rector of TEC, indicates that the development of technology to apply the Covid-19 detection test, the production of equipment and materials, without dependence on foreign supplies, is among TEC’s priorities, both for research and short-term supply to address current demands from the government and society.

UCR also developing a prototype
Another group of engineers and physicists from UCR is also working on improving an emergency ventilator for Covid-19 patients.  The Disclosure and Information Office (ODI) of the university stated that they could be freely used in the country in the primary care of patients.  

This weekend, specialists began to work on the first prototype called “Respira UCR.” They based the prototype on an idea developed by young engineers from Spain who built a homemade wooden respirator.

The creators released the plans and instructions for assembling this Spanish invention on the internet making it openly available for use in all parts of the world.

This emergency system automates an Ambu type manual respirator (kind of balloon), controlled by one person for the primary care of ill patients.

The original model has a part that simulates respiratory rhythm.  This same action activates the mechanism that compresses the balloon to achieve periodic inhaling and exhaling.  The respirator is then graphically reproduced on a computer to create the shape of the kidney-shaped part.

The Director of UCR’s School of Physics, Ralph Garcia Vindas, assures us that the objective of this university group is to create a more efficient artificial ventilator device that could be used if the situation in the country becomes critical.

“If cases continue to increase in the country, not all patents could reach the hospital directly, because they would first be seen at the EBAIS (local health center) where their health status is evaluated.  This respirator would solve the need to provide respiratory support to sick people until they reach the hospital, where an artificial respirator would be installed”, said Garcia, explaining that the device is not a substitute for a commercial respirator.

The device is easy to build and could even be produced in a carpentry shop. It only requires laser cutting equipment or a jigsaw.

The prototype costs approximately 80.000 colones (about $136) including the Ambu resuscitator.  Although, according to UCR, the price would be lower if mass-produced.

Specialists assured that they consulted the country’s doctors, whose comments were incorporated into the prototype.

“We have added a flowmeter to the device, to measure air volume, and uses circuits to control the volume of air injected into a patient, whether a child or an adult. A doctor suggested this improvement”, said the Director of UCR’s School of Physics.

HACKATHON against Covid-19
A Hackathon will be held virtually on different platforms with the support of authorities from different areas, for teams of professionals and students to come together to implement a solution to a coronavirus related problem.

The activity, to be held the week of March 23 to 27, will address problems within the 4 critical lines hit hardest by the virus: information, disinformation, support for high-risk populations, support for local businesses and suppliers.

In addition, because of the country’s current needs, the teams are expected to propose a clear approach, for a delimited population, for immediate implementation.  More details here.