The Aga Khan University (AKU) will launch a clinical trial of a portable, low-cost ventilator that aims to make lifesaving treatment such as assisted breathing available to patients before they reach the hospital.
Ventilators are currently only available in hospitals, even though most patients with critical breathing problems need earlier access to breathing assistance. The AKU’s briefcase-sized, battery-operated ventilator is designed to be used in an ambulance to reduce existing delays in receiving care.
“Every moment is vital when you’re struggling to breathe,” said Saleem Sayani, director of the AKU’s Technology Innovation Support Centre and Digital Health Resource Centre.
“Most people with severe respiratory issues see their health deteriorate on their way to the hospital, and they typically need more breathing assistance than a simple oxygen cylinder can provide.”
Pakistan also has a high burden of respiratory diseases, with pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) being two of the top 10 causes of death, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. People with severe forms of pneumonia, COPD and Covid-19 are among those who require urgent access to ventilation.
The prototype device also has a mobile app that allows doctors at the hospital to manage the ventilator’s settings while the patient is in the ambulance to ensure that they reach the hospital in a stable condition.
A third of all patients in low- and middle-income countries require care such as assisted ventilation before reaching the hospital, according to the World Health Organisation. Besides those with breathing problems, individuals suffering from head injuries, drug overdoses and heart conditions can also benefit from ventilators in ambulances.
Early tests show that the prototype ventilator can provide a regular supply of oxygen that can stabilise the health of a high-fidelity patient mannequin mimicking the symptoms of a patient with respiratory issues. Clinical trials aim to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the device among patients with chronic breathing problems in ambulances and emergency rooms.