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South Africa COVID-19 Ventilator Production Directed by Space Scientists

July 13, 2020 (EIRNS)—It were as if Donald Trump had put NASA in charge of the U.S. technical response to the virus.

In early April, as domestic cases in South Africa were just crossing 1,000 and the lockdown was fully in force, the administration put the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO)—the people who built the MeerKAT, the nation’s first radio telescope—in charge of managing “the national effort required for the local design, development, production and procurement of respiratory ventilators” for the COVID-19 response. Now that effort has begun to produce.

“Next month will see the first batch of non-invasive ventilators arrive in our hospitals,” reported the Johannesburg-based Mail & Guardian on June 26, “with a roll out of 20,000 in the pipeline.” The design is uniquely non-invasive, the oxygen being delivered to the patient through a traditional nasal cannula, more like a CPAP machine—continuous positive airway pressure, used for millions to counter sleep apnea—and not requiring invasive “tracheal intubation.”

Not only has the specialized “intubation” procedure recently come under medical question as a response to the virus, but also the SARAO device does not require any specialization to administer, being usable under a wider variety of circumstances. The design is also more successful.

“The [SARAO-designed ventilators] are already in use in some hospitals and, according to Premier of the Western Cape, Alan Winde, doctors at Tygerberg Hospital have notched up some promising results. Of the six COVID-19 patients initially placed on ventilators at the hospital, all died. High-flow nasal oxygen was administered to seven other patients rather than putting them on ventilators—six came through. Since then ... 70% have recovered.”

“ ‘This therapy will become a critical part of our healthcare response, creating an alternative for ventilation. Under the correct supervision, we believe it can also be administered in general wards, which will minimize the need for critical care beds,’ said Winde.”

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