Frank Schleibach, head physician of anaesthesiology, shows the functioning of a ventilator in the Viersen General Hospital in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany on March 20, 2020.

After the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Pakistan, the reported cases skyrocketed rather quickly.

Pakistan has now crossed 5000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus and is in the acceleration phase of the pandemic. The duration and severity of which depends on the public health response

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s government and private hospitals have a very small number of ventilators, which is proving to be deficient due to a significant surge of new cases of infected patients

The situation of ventilators, which is a huge burden even for developing countries, varies from province to province in Pakistan. According to the available statistics, Punjab’s public sector hospitals have nearly 1,300 ventilators, public and private sectors of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) have around 150 ventilators, all government hospitals in Baluchistan account for 49 ventilators only and the Sindh Health Department has 484 ventilators in the entire province.

Why do we need ventilators?

One of the most worrying symptoms of COVID-19 is the way it deteriorates the respiratory system of the infected patient. According to lung pathologist Sanjay Mukhopadhyay, in severe cases, the virus causes a dangerous and potentially fatal condition known as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Hence, treating severe cases of the novel coronavirus disease often requires the use of ventilators. Although some doctors believe ventilators are not suitable for every COVID19 patient, the growing number of cases in the country proves that we need all the help we can get.

As Dr. Azad Mashari, a Toronto-based anesthesiologist and lecturer in the University of Toronto’s department of anesthesia, puts it, “Ventilators are not a treatment, per se, they’re considered what’s called supportive therapy.”

Engineers volunteering to help

A team of 100 Pakistani Engineers is working tirelessly to repair out of order ventilators in different cities of Pakistan. What started as a team of 3 volunteers, has grown into a team of more than 100 specialized ventilator experts who are working free of cost.

The team has repaired and sent back 125 ventilators in the last 20 days and are currently working on fixing several hundred faulty ventilators. According to the team lead, Engr. Zahoor Sarwar, their volunteers have been working day and night, making runs to hospitals to find faulty ventilators to fix. They are not asking for any revenue in return. Rather they are spending money from their pockets to purchase any replacement parts required.

While sending a message to the healthcare workers fighting on the frontline, he said:

Dear Doctors and medical staff, Pakistani Engineers are with you fighting to support you. You are our brothers and sisters. May Allah Help you in your Jehad. Private hospitals can also take help from us if they promise to provide free medical help to corona patients. Already nine private hospitals, including Rawal Medical and Dental College and Hospital, have committed to their request.

The team is even ready to work with private hospitals and keep their identity private if they promise to treat COVID-19 patients free of cost. These ventilator experts are not only doing repairs, but are even providing training in hospitals on how to operate ventilators.

Sarwar has urged more volunteers to join the team, especially in remote areas where they are struggling to deploy teams. Currently, the volunteer teams are deployed in 25 cities including Karachi, Sukkar, Gambit, Hyderabad, Multan, Bahawalpur, Sargodha, Muzaffargarh, DG Khan, Kasur, Lahore, Sialkot, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Peshawar, Buner, Swat, Quetta, Rahim Yar Khan, Faisalabad, Jaranwala, Badin, Gilgit, Chilas, and Hunza.

Their efforts have been recognized by the government, and as a result, NRTC and NDMA are working in collaboration with them. Several suppliers have also stepped forward to provide them with replacement parts for free.

Commenting on the matter, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said:

Not only will our teams of engineers help to make the ventilators functional again, but they will also train the hospital staff to operate the ventilators and related medical equipment.

Pakistan did not manufacture ventilators or testing kits in the past, but in just a few weeks, we will be able to start manufacturing ventilators and testing kits locally thanks to efforts of our young engineers. The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan has completed legal procedures on a war footing, and we are in the final stage of licensing these products.

Conclusion

The government of Pakistan, as well as private organizations, have taken unprecedented steps to battle the deadly contagion. From developing new applications to enforcing a countrywide lockdown, everything is being worked on. However, it is unclear if these will be enough given the challenges the country is facing and was facing before the pandemic.

Government estimates suggest that by the beginning of June, COVID-19 cases in Pakistan could rise to 58,000, while the mortality rate can rise to 5 to 10%. Hence, Pakistan’s healthcare system is likely to be overwhelmed.

It’s good to see that the public is volunteering to help the healthcare workers do their tasks more efficiently. If you want to volunteer or if you are interested in getting the faulty ventilators at your hospital fixed free of cost, you can always contact Engr. Zahoor Sarwar using this phone number: 0321-556452