How COVID-19 spurred ABU engineers to produce ventilator, sanitising device

Engineering medicine in the time of pandemic

Despite non-payment of salaries for three months, engineers at Arewa’s premier university, the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria have produced prototypes of a ventilator and a unique sanitiser machine which have ushered in an atmosphere of self-confidence and is spurring new spirit of scientific innovation, Daily Trust reports.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has forced scientists across the world to think out of the box.

A search for a cure and need for essentials equipment for the treatment of COVID-19 and curb the spread of the disease has become a priority.

Two of the most important equipment required for both treatment and prevention are ventilators and devices for hand sanitising.

Being that ventilators are critical equipment in the treatment of COVID-19, coupled with the fact that even advanced countries of the world are in short supply, engineers at ABU decided to intervene by producing a locally made ventilator that could be used in the treatment of the novel disease.

The engineers also manufactured a four-in-one sanitiser machine.

Professor Muhammad Sani Sallau is the Director, ABU’s Equipment Maintenance and Development Centre (EMDC) and the leader of the team.

He said, with the breakthrough, the next thing, which they are urgently pursuing, is to safeguard the product.

“We are currently processing the patenting and trade-marking of these products. We are receiving the necessary cooperation from the relevant agencies of the government.

“We are hoping before the end of this week, we would be able to make the necessary payment,” he said.

On mass production of the devices named ABUVENT-20 and ABUSANIT-20, Professor Sallau said the duty of research centres like theirs is to come up with ideas and allow manufacturers to take up mass production.

“Therefore, what we do is to come up with ideas and to come up with prototype equipment like these ones.

“The university would now liaise with manufacturers and follow due process for the mass production.

“I think if the government comes in here; it can assist.

“We have sent the video clips to them and they even called us to Abuja for demonstration.

“Ministry of Science and Technology invited us, but for the fact that the invitation came late, we were taken to the Raw Material Research and Development Centre for the demonstration.

“They admitted that of all the ventilators produced in Nigeria, none is comparable to ours, because of the features and quality,” he said.

A member of the team explaining how the ventilator works
A member of the team explaining how the ventilator works

He said the ministry has promised to link them up with the ministerial committee on COVID-19, saying that they are hoping to get the best cooperation.

Dr Kaisan Muhamamad Usman of ABU’s Mechanical Engineering Department is a member of the team.

He said the idea of the made-in-ABU sanitiser machine was conceived to assist in the promotion of preventive measures against COVID-19.

“Based on the existing preventive guidelines, there should be minimum contact of hand and surface of things in order not to transmit the disease. This brought up the idea of this four-in-one sanitiser machine.

“It can take 25 litres of water.

“However, this can be reduced or increased depending on the demand.

“We source all the materials locally within available resources in Nigeria.”

Usman said the machine was designed to be produced within one hour in an industrial set up.

“But”, he said, “Since we are using hand tools, it takes longer.

“It dispenses water, soap for washing of hand, dry-up the hand and dispenses the hand sanitiser. This is why it is four-in-one.

“Despite the fact that the government had withheld our salaries for three months as ASUU members, we felt that we should complement the efforts of the government to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a demonstration that we are not fighting the government as ASUU members, but we are trying to salvage the public university system,” he said.

Manufacturing the devices took them three weeks despite the nationwide lockdown.

Usman explained that representatives of the ABU Teaching Hospital had inspected the ventilator and would put it into use first at the ABU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital to detect any defect before finally taken it to ABUTH.

He said the major challenge the team faced was funding and sourcing of the materials to use. Despite the non-payment of their salaries, members of the team used their personal finances to fund the project

“My appeal to government is to be funding conceived ideas for the mass production of the prototype products.

“Our universities are blessed with intellectuals that can compete favourably at the international arena if constraints like inadequate power supply, equipment and funds can be addressed.”

While inspecting the breakthrough, Vice-Chancellor of ABU, Professor Kabir Bala said the prototype ventilator and hand sanitiser machine by the school’s engineers are spurring the upgrading of its research laboratories.

He said the achievement is a testimony to the competence of Nigerian scientists if provided with a conducive environment to operate.

He said the upgrade of the university’s laboratories would allow scientists from within and outside the institution and Nigeria as a whole to use them to widen the frontiers of knowledge.

Appreciating the team of engineers, Bala said the three core mandates of ABU, which are teaching, research and community service, could be more realisable when the institution’s intellectuals continue to look inward.

“ABU would further develop its research and innovation centre by providing it with all the needed facilities to achieve the desired objective.

“The centre in conjunction with Intellectual Property Technology Transfer Office would work towards patenting all inventions of the university,” he said.

The university, the VC added, would equally work hard to attract funding for research purposes in order to survive as universities elsewhere in the world do.

“We have much potential that if tapped well, the country would stand to benefit immensely,” he said.

For now, though, all eyes would be on the relevant authorities to see how this breakthrough would be moved to the “next level.”

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