The team has been in development since March and is almost ready to be used in hospitals. The girls received guidance from Harvard University. (Image credit: JALIL REZAYEE/EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTOCK)


As the coronavirus continues to spread, access to ventilators to treat those affected remains a problem, especially outside of the US. In Afghanistan, a team of young girls took action and created their own low-cost ventilator when the virus began to spread. Now, the device is in its final stages and is nearly ready to be used in local hospitals.

The all-female Afghan Robotics Team, which has won international awards for its robots, began working on their low cost, open-source ventilator in March. Partially based on a design from MIT and with guidance from Harvard University, it took them four months to get it finalized. Unlike traditional ventilators, this one is easy to carry, can run on battery power for 10 hours, and only costs $700 to produce in comparison to the $20,000 price of most ventilators.


“We are delighted that we were able to take our first step in the field of medicine and to be able to serve the people in this area as well. All members of our team feel happy because, after months of hard work, we were able to achieve this result,” 18-year-old high school student Somaya Faruqi told Reuters.

The ventilator still needs to go through a final round of testing from health authorities before it can be used, but officials are looking forward to the device since the country only has 800 ventilators to treat rapidly growing coronavirus cases. So far, Afghanistan has recorded 35,500 COVID-19 cases and 1,181 deaths, though experts believe the true count is much higher due to low testing rates.


According to Health Ministry spokesman Akmal Samsor, when the ventilators are approved, they will be sent to Afghan hospitals, and the design will be shared with the World Health Organization.


“We appreciate the initiative and creativity in Afghanistan’s health sector...after they are approved, we will use these ventilators, and we are determined to contract with companies so we can also export them,” he said.


In 2017, the Afghan Girls Robotics Team was awarded silver medals for their achievements in creating a machine that sorted dirty water from clean water. They also won the Entrepreneur Challenge at the International Robotex competition in Estonia. Though they were victorious, they struggled with securing visas for the First Global Challenge robotics competition in Washington, only to be denied for no stated reason. The US Department of State reversed the decision after public outcry.


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