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University of Cambridge designs open-source ventilator for African countries




An open-source ventilator has been designed by a team at the University of Cambridge primarily for use in low and middle-income countries.

In partnership with clinicians, engineers and manufacturers across Africa, the focus was on the specific needs for treating Covid-19 patients and a fully-functioning system for use after the pandemic.

The OVSI ventilator built at the University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge (33774766)
The OVSI ventilator built at the University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge (33774766)

The Open Ventilator System Initiative (OVSI) ventilator can be cheaply and quickly manufactured from readily available components, and the open-source design will allow users to adapt and fix according to their needs.

The machines can be built quickly across Africa in large numbers and the cost per device is estimated to be around one tenth of currently available commercial systems.

There are 10 countries in Africa that do not have any ventilators at all and, according to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that there are fewer than 2,000 working ventilators across 41 countries on the continent.

The OVSI is a consortium of academics, engineers, intensive care medics, innovators and industry partners across the UK and Africa, and has grown quickly from an initial idea at Cambridge University in March to a team of 60 individuals.

The clinical partnerships were established with the support of the Cambridge-Africa programme and Cambridge Global Health Partnerships.

The OVSI ventilator built at the University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge (33774789)
The OVSI ventilator built at the University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge (33774789)

The ventilator was designed and built by a team based at the University of Cambridge’s Whittle Laboratory.

“Critical to this project has been the speed of technology development,” said Professor Robert Miller, director of the Whittle Laboratory.

“In recent years, the primary focus of the Whittle Laboratory has been to accelerate the process of technology development.

“By merging the digital and physical systems integral to the technology development process and by using Formula One-style teams, we’ve cut the amount of time this takes by a factor of 10 to 100. This capability has been key to delivering the OVSI ventilator.”

The prototype is currently being developed further into a version that can be easily mass-produced by Prodrive Ltd.

It has been thoroughly tested at the National Physical Laboratory, and the OVSI team is working on securing regulatory approval for the device.

The first manufacture will be led by Defy Ltd in South Africa.

The OVSI ventilator built at the University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge (33774787)
The OVSI ventilator built at the University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge (33774787)

“While the immediate need is to save lives in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, we wanted something that will be useful to healthcare workers around the world going forward,” said Dr Lara Allen, CEO of the Centre for Global Equality and a founding member of the OVSI team.

“It’s often the case that those living on less than $4 per day are excluded from the innovation process.

As a result, many well-meaning innovations are not what is needed or wanted by the intended beneficiaries and end up not being used.

“This is disappointing for designers, a waste of humanitarian resources, and low-resource communities continue to go without the support they desperately need.

“This is why taking an inclusive innovation approach is vital for sustainable impact.”


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