Amid shortage, Palestinian university develops homegrown ventilator prototype

Amid shortage, Palestinian university develops homegrown ventilator prototype

Al-Quds University president says that, if approved, the school will manufacture the devices to help West Bank and Gaza, where there are fewer than 350 breathing machines

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian medical employees disinfect Palestinian workers who came back from working in Israel at the entrance to the West Bank village of Hussan, on March 29, 2020, in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.  (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Palestinian medical employees disinfect Palestinian workers who came back from working in Israel at the entrance to the West Bank village of Hussan, on March 29, 2020, in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A team of engineers and doctors at al-Quds University in the West Bank town of  Abu Dis have succeeded in developing a ventilator prototype, boosting hopes that Palestinians can domestically manufacture the breathing machines vital to treating serious COVID-19 cases.

The development might pave the way for Palestinians to reduce, at least partially, the steep shortage of ventilators in Palestinian medical facilities, where there are currently only 256 ventilators in the West Bank and 87 more in the Gaza Strip, according to the World Health Organization.

Eighty to ninety percent of the existing ventilators in Palestinian health institutions are also already in use by patients without conditions related to the highly contagious coronavirus, Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of WHO’s mission to the Palestinians, said on Thursday.

“The team at our university made this ventilator because it wants to save lives,” Imad Abu Kishk, the president of al-Quds University, said in a phone call, noting that the raw materials were locally sourced and the machine was fully computerized.

ونجحت الاختبارات…رئيس جامعة القدس يعلن نجاح الجامعة في انتاج جهاز تنفس طبي قابل للتصنيع محليًا وسد النقص في الأجهزة،…

פורסם על ידי ‏Al-Quds University جامعة القدس‏ ב- יום רביעי, 1 באפריל 2020

Global demand for ventilators has skyrocketed in recent month as patients with serious cases of COVID-19 around the world have required them to stay alive.

In Italy, some hospitals have been unable to provide everyone who needs a ventilator with one; the country has so far dealt with more than 110,000 cases of the virus.

Palestinian authorities have said 161 people in the West Bank and Gaza have been infected by coronavirus, with the overwhelming majority of them not requiring hospitalization.

Palestinian health workers handle a Coronavirus test sample of Palestinian workers as they cross back from Israel at a checkpoint near Hebron, March 25, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

However, Palestinian officials have expressed concerns about the possibility of a surge in cases of the virus in the West Bank when tens of thousands of Palestinian workers in Israel return to their homes in the territory in the coming weeks.

Hani Abdeen, the dean of the al-Quds medical school who participated in the development of the prototype, said that it was not comparable to ventilators produced by large international companies, but emphasized that it could still help them breathe.

“It does not have all the functions and modes that the ones international firms make, but it can help people experiencing acute respiratory failure inhale and exhale and give them oxygen,” he said in call. “It can keep them alive.”

Imad Abu Kishk being interviewed by Ma’an, a Palestinian news agency, in August 2019. (Screenshot: Ma’an)

Haidar al-Hajji, the head of the Palestinian Standards Institution (PSI), a Palestinian Authority body that licenses companies to produce goods, said members of his organization as well as the PA Health Ministry would gather on Saturday to examine the model.

“If we find that it meets our standards, we will permit it to move to production,” he said in a call, noting that the PSI and the Health Ministry were carrying out the checks on the ventilator faster than they ordinarily would do so.

He said they will examine whether the prototype was electrically sound and calibrated properly and will review how it performs in a medical simulation.

Abu Kishk said, if the model receives official approval for production on a large scale, the university was strongly considering manufacturing it in-house.

A Palestinian Health worker sprays disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus in a gymnasium in Gaza City, March 15, 2020. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

“Many companies have called and asked to do business, but we are thinking it would be best to make them in the university and sell them at the cost of production,” he said, predicting each ventilator would go for $500-$2,000. “We prefer that this project not be for profit and we think our excellent engineering students can play a major role in making them.”

The prototype, according to the university president, has also received praise from PA President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian officials.

“The president called and congratulated us on this accomplishment,” Abu Kishk said. “He stressed that the country is in dire need of this machine.”

Al-Quds University’s Faculty of Science & Technology (photo credit: Diaaasa/Wikipedia Commons)

Abdeen said he and his colleagues first entertained the idea of making a ventilator two weeks ago, but said the project became a reality after they worked together on it for three consecutive days.

“The most complicated part was programming the device in a way that corresponds to medical realities,” he said, noting that the team of engineers and doctors had also studied how their counterparts in Canada and the US have made ventilators.

Hajji added that other Palestinian universities, organizations and companies were also developing ventilator prototypes, but said they still were working on preparing them for official review.

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