A group of teen girls in Herat, Afghanistan is working hard to design an affordable ventilator to treat COVID-19 coronavirus patients.
The Afghan Girls Robotics Team of five girls aged 14 to 17 — Somaya Faruqi, Dyana Wahbzadeh, Folernace Poya, Ellaham Mansori, and Nahid Rahimi — are part of the Afghan Dreamers two-year program for high-achieving girls.
Their city has seen a spike in COVID-19 coronavirus cases as thousands of people fled Iran to escape a massive outbreak. More than 800 confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported in Afghanistan and the country of 35 million people had only 300 ventilators as of Thursday.
The Afghan Girls Robotics Team launched the project in response to Herat Governor Abdul Qayum Rahimi’s public call for ventilators (which are in short supply worldwide), to help treat COVID-19 coronavirus patients.
Coronavirus causes a respiratory infection that makes it difficult to breathe and ventilators assist patients in breathing if they cannot do so on their own.
With limited resources and many businesses closed during the pandemic, the team only used locally-sourced materials to build two ventilator prototypes. One is powered by the engine and battery parts of a Toyota Corolla, a common car in Herat. The ventilator automatically operates an Ambu, a self-inflating plastic sac used by medical professionals to help patients breathe.
The team is developing the other model based on a design by the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, with input from Harvard University experts, and doctors are testing it.
If the World Health Organization and the Afghan Health Ministry approves one of the team’s prototypes, they will be able to mass produce it for US $300, compared to the usual average cost of $30,000.
Officials have asked more specialists and engineers to help the team, according to Wahidullah Mayar, a spokesperson for Afghanistan's Health Ministry.
Tech entrepreneur Roya Mahboob first founded the Afghan Dreamers to help young girls develop digital literacy skills.
"The only thing that we all want to do is help our people and our community. We will do anything to help them," Mahboob told the National.