To address the shortage of critically needed ventilators in developing countries, a team of researchers at Imperial College London developed a low-cost option for COVID-19 patients that has been demonstrated to meet the international standard for critical care. This same device could be used for patients with other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Most ventilators use proportional valves and flow sensors to control the pressure differences. These specialist parts can be expensive and suffer supply-chain problems. Such issues were laid bare at the start of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic as countries struggled to meet ventilator demand. Initially, around a third of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 needed ventilation. Estimates suggested that more than 800,000 new ventilators would be needed worldwide, but in 2019, annual ventilator production was less than 80,000.

To address this shortfall, teams of scientists started working on low-cost ventilators to meet the emergency short-term need created by the pandemic. At Imperial College London, one group of researchers led by bioengineer Joseph van Batenburg-Sherwood created a prototype ventilator based on on–off valves. Unlike proportional valves, these off-the-shelf components are widely available from various manufacturers.

The ventilator uses four on–off solenoid valves, a two-litre reservoir, an oxygen sensor and two mechanical pressure sensors. Unlike most current ventilator designs it does not require pressurized gas supplies, which can be in short supply, particularly in low resource settings. Instead, it can utilize a portable home-use oxygen concentrator.

Read the article in its entirety on Physics World.