Although several cash donations and medical supplies have been received, the advent of locally-fabricated ventilators by some young inventors may be the game changer in Nigeria’s fight against Coronavirus. Abdulsalam Mahmud writes.

Introduction

Talk about money, medical facilities and drugs? Nigeria has received all of them. Both in sheer size and immeasurable quantity. Massive amounts of cash have been donated. Some state-of-the-art testing facilities have been constructed and even commissioned. Quality and effective drugs, together with other diagnostic equipment, have also been supplied. These were all in a bid to contain the alarming spread of coronavirus in the country.

Towards Fighting a Pandemic

Africa’s foremost industrialist, Aliko Dangote, who is leading the private sector coalition against COVID-19, in collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has teamed up with Access Bank Plc to provide treatment, testing, training and isolation centres across the country. The Kano State-born Forbes’ billionaire, again donated N2 billion to support the pandemic-eradication cause.

Then, there is Alhaji Abdulsamad Rabiu—founder of BUA Group, a conglomerate that specializes in sugar refining, cement manufacturing, real estate, and port operations. Rabiu, aside making a cash donation of N1 billion through the BUA foundation, also placed orders for additional equipment and medical supplies including testing kits and protective gear to nine states across the country: Lagos, Kano, Adamawa, Kwara, Edo, Rivers, Abia, Akwa-Ibom and Sokoto. The BUA Group, alone, also made a separate donation of N300 million to Sokoto, Edo and Ogun States to help trigger a coordinated response in the fight against COVID-19.

Chinese billionaire and co-founder of Alibaba, has since made good his intention to support Africa’s battle against coronavirus. He donated tens of thousands of test kits and protective suits, among other essential medical supplies to Nigeria, and other countries in the continent. Others who promised to support the government have also redeemed their various pledge.

Dearth of Ventilators

But despite the billions realized, world-class testing and isolations centres created; and medical equipment and drugs received, Nigeria’s ‘war’ against COVID-19 would be incomplete. Reason: dearth of ventilators. Ventilator, a machine that provides mechanical ventilation by moving breathable air into and out of the lungs, to deliver breaths to a patient who is physically unable to breathe, or breathing insufficiently, is everything, but adequate in the country.

According to a report by DailyTrust, there are only 169 ventilators in sixteen out of the 36 states. This is in the face of the geometrical increase in number of confirmed cases from the deadly pandemic. The states include Kano, Ogun, Edo, Delta, Adamawa, Kwara, Bayelsa, Katsina, Borno, Yobe, Benue, Bauchi, Kaduna, Ebonyi, Gombe and Plateau. The report said there is an average of 10 ventilators in each of the states, but further clarified that some of the states do not have more than five ventilators, in real terms.

Young Inventors to the Rescue

However, the trio of Usman Dalhatu, Dr. Yunusa Muhammad Garba and Aliyu Hassan—three young, but talented Nigerian inventors—may just have provided the government with solutions to the problem of scarce ventilators at health facilities in the country.

With only few raw materials—metals and iron—sourced locally from damaged parts of cars and other machines, Dalhatu, who is a 200-level student of Mechanical Engineering at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, in Kaduna State, designed and produced a manual ventilator, to be used in treating coronavirus patients.

Dalhatu, 20, told PRNigeria that he decided to fabricate the ventilator as part of effort to assist the Federal Government (FG) contain the pandemic, whose cases has been on daily rise.

“It took me just two days to fabricate my local ventilator. With adequate funding and technical supports from expert-technicians, I can produce the ventilator in bulk within a short time,” he said.

The young inventor, said his dream is to become a mechanical engineer who will be fabricating machines and electronic gadgets that will eliminate the need for humans to their use energy or labour when working.

Like Dalhatu, Dr. Garba, a lecturer at the College of Medical Sciences, Gombe State University and Aliyu Hassan, a graduate of Mechatronics Engineering, have also fabricated an indigenous ventilator, which was presented to Governor Inuwa Yahaya at the Gombe Government House recently.

The 36 year-old lecturer, said their ventilator had earlier been certified by Gombe State’s COVID-19 Task Force Committee, together with other medical doctors and professors of medicine, before it was presented to the Governor.

“I and my colleague were warmly received by the Governor. He commended us for pioneering the Nigerian-made ventilator. He was highly impressed and pledged to support us in every aspect,” he added.

Arising from the meeting, it was gathered that Gov. Yahaya asked Dr. Garba, Hassan and Dalhatu to partner and produce a sophisticated ventilator, after promising that the State Government will fund their project.

The Governor directed the Secretary to the State Government and the Commissioner of Science, Technology and Innovation to liaise with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology respectively, as well as other organisations, with a view to attracting patronage for the young inventors.

Garba, who teaches in the Department of Human Anatomy, said their (himself, Hassan and Dalhatu) collaboration is not aimed at seeking personal glory, noting that the State Government is also considering opening a mini-factory for them to produce adequate ventilators for the country.

His words: “The Governor directed the Commissioner of Science, Technology and Innovation to provide us with necessary assistance. He approved some amount of money for us to begin a new design and fabrication of advanced ventilators. The ventilator we are going to be manufacturing now will be highly affordable, compared to the imported ones. The ones we will fabricate can be purchased for less than a million, unlike the foreign ventilators which are very exorbitant.”

The Doctor of Philosophy, PhD-holder from the University of Konstanz in Germany, expressed confidence that their locally-produced ventilators will a game-changer in the country’s fight against COVID-19.

Together with Hassan and Dalhatu, he said, they are also going to produce hand sanitizers and organize community outreach to sensitize residents on the dangers of coronavirus.

Excitement over Inventors’ Feats

Commissioner of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Aisha Umar Maigari, in a telephone interview with our PRNigeria reporter, submitted that the feats attained by the young inventors who are indigenes of Gombe, means a lot not only to the administration of Gov. Inuwa Yahaya, but entire people of the State.

She disclosed that both Dr. Garba, Hassan and the ABU undergraduate-inventor have been provided with adequate funds to quickly fabricate two prototype of a modern ventilator. She added that her Ministry also registered them for capacity enhancement and development at the State’s Technology Incubation Centre.

Said Dr. Maigari: “Youths and Technological Development and Advancement is one of the key focus of this government. So, we are happy that our youths are blazing the trail in technological and scientific innovation. My Ministry, specifically, has been able to identify creative youths. And not only that, we have been showcasing and marketing them to the world at various fora. I am assuring you that the State Government will soon get the home-grown ventilators produced by Dr. Garba, Hassan and Usman Dalhatu patented and commercialized.”

Genuine Commendation

A lecturer at ABU Zaria and Head of Bio-fuels Engines and Emission Research Group, Dr. Kaisan Muhammad Usman, who is Dalhatu’s mentor, described his student as a gifted tech savvy.

Speaking with PRNigeria, Dr. Usman, said Dalhatu did a great job by manufacturing the manual ventilator, which according to him, will project the value of the country’s local content, especially in the area of scientific and technological innovations by young creative talents.

Unveiling NASENI, ATBU’s Exploits

Meanwhile, the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) has launched its made-in-Nigeria ventilator, as part of measures to enhance the country’s capacity to tackle coronavirus.

Its Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), Prof. Mohammed Haruna, explained that the agency, using the World Health Organisation (WHO) model, produced a reversed engineering model of ventilators using available local materials.

Also, a team of engineers at the Abubakar Tafawa University (ATBU) Bauchi, has invented automatic ventilators, disinfection chambers and software engineer apps for screening and treatment of coronavirus and Lassa fever patients.

Vice-Chancellor (VC) of ATBU, Prof. Muhammad Ahmad Abdulazeez, who disclosed this to newsmen at the ATBU Mechatronics Engineering Laboratory, said as a hub for innovation, the institution felt the need to support the federal government through an innovative approach to halt the ravaging scourge.

He explained that engineers at the university invented a prototype ventilator which is cost-effective for the treatment of coronavirus. He added that the team also fabricated an aerosol box for the protection of medical doctors and other health personnel.

The VC, said part of the machines invented by the team includes a disinfection spraying machine to spray anyone going in and coming out of a hospital, banks or any room, in order to control infection either through touching an object or infected person.

Team leader of the scientists, Dr. Faisal Sani Bala, said their automatic ventilator was invented with only local materials available in Bauchi. “We cannibalize on all office materials to construct. We are going to work in tandem with our medical school and other medical personnel within the school to do a pre-clinical and clinical trial, because this is a medical device that needs some level of certification,” he said.

Dr. Bala, added that one of the advantages of an automatic ventilator is that it has a backup battery, as well as a provision for solar panel to power the machine.

Need for Pre-Market Approval (PMA)

But according to Messrs. Dere Mustapha Deji, Oyejide Ayodele James and Atoyebi Oluwatosin, who are Nigerian scientists, there is need for utmost caution to be taken and guidelines strictly obeyed by biomedical engineers and other inventors when fabricating ventilators locally.

This, according to them, will make their design safe and effective. They added that locally-manufactured ventilators must be subjected to a ‘Premarket Approval’ (PMA) test to certify their safety and effectiveness as medical devices, before they can be approved for use on patients.

They stated this in an article they jointly co-authored and titled, “Safety and Efficiency: Points to Note in Making Ventilators,” which was recently published on the MEDIUM—an online platform that publishes write-ups in diverse academic and socio-cultural fields.

“PMA process can be rigorous if such a device does not have a Substantial Equivalent (SE). That is, a similar device that has already been approved, and whose function can be used to ascertain the safety and effectiveness of a new device seeking approval. Luckily for us, ventilators do have SE. The technical hurdles in PMA that a new device such as local ventilators need to pass before it can be certified as safe and effective for use include Bench Test, Pre-Clinical and Clinical Test, together with some other documentation,’ they noted.

This feature report is jointly owned by African Science Literacy Network (ASLN) Fellows, Abdulsalam Mahmud (Journalist) and Royhaan Folarin (Scientist).

Mahmud is a Staff Writer with PRNigeria, while Folarin is a lecturer at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye, in Ogun State.