There has been an outbreak of a viral disease Covid-19 that has been sweeping across the world. China, Italy, Spain and USA are some of the most affected countries. India too has a fair number of persons who have tested positive and at the time this article is being written over 50 people have lost their lives. The virus spreads from one person to another through droplets, and the virus is said to be viable for several hours on surfaces. There are many guidelines to avoid the possibility of contracting the virus, although most persons who are infected are not likely to show any symptoms. The symptoms are similar to the SARS outbreak of some years ago and the structure of the virus is that of a crown which is why it has been called a coronavirus. The elderly are most susceptible to succumb to the disease which manifests itself as acute respiratory distress, congestion and subsequently death.
Critically ill patients have to be supported on ventilators to aid their breathing so that they have a chance to recover. There is no vaccine at the moment.
Ventilators are specialized equipment that mix air and oxygen in specified ratios and deliver them to the lungs of the patient who is having difficulty in breathing on his or her own due to damage to the lungs. It requires control and constant monitoring, and has several components that control the parameters. Typically a ventilator costs about 7 lakhs and the country has approximately 40,000 ventilators across various parts of the country. In the event that the disease becomes wide-spread a large number of ventilators will have to be procured at short notice or would have to be domestically manufactured including the components, which at the moment are either imported or procured from a variety of distributors. Faced with this challenge many engineers across the country have come together in various sectors of the economy, including the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, which are leading teaching and research institutes, as well as private industries. A wide variety of alternative technologies are being explored and miniaturization is also being explored. If the technology is successful, patients can be taken care of at home, without being admitted to Intensive Care Units of hospitals. Early efforts have brought down the price by a factor of 5, and there are also efforts to bring them down by a factor of 15.
Highly committed researchers are pooling resources and collaborating across Institutional boundaries in order to meet these objectives.
Other efforts to rise to the challenge posed by the disease are aimed at early and efficient development of vaccines, both to carry out clinical tests and certification, as well as to mass produce sufficient quantities of the vaccine to take care of the needs of the population in the coming years.
While the situation is dynamic and efforts are gathering pace continuously, a small sample of stories is given below with their html links.
The IISc team that includes members of the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering (DESE) as well as the Department of Aerospace Engineering and that of Electrical Communication Engineering, and Centre for Product Design and Manufacture, is building a prototype of an electro-mechanical ventilator from scratch using only domestically produced components.
The well-known PSU Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. has expressed interest in supporting mass production. (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/science/iisc-building-indigenous-ventilator-prototype-for-covid-19-patients/articleshow/74933199.cms)
A team at IIT Kanpur has also risen to the challenge and the Bio Science and Bio Engineering department is confident of producing proto type and mass production. (http://newsonair.com/Main-News-Details.aspx?id=384363)