Johannesburg – A team of University of Johannesburg engineers and healthcare specialists have created a
prototype for a low-cost ventilator in the fight against Covid-19.
The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment is coordinating efforts to further develop open-source
ventilators; support repair and maintenance efforts to bring out-of-warranty equipment into service and make rapid
prototyping facilities available to enable personal protective equipment manufacturing.
Reports indicate that South Africa has less than half the number of ventilators needed to deal with peak
infections. They state that the public healthcare system has 1 111 operational ventilators, with the private
healthcare having 2 105.
The team of engineers, led by Dr Deon Sabatta and Dr Samson Masebinu says it has taken a three-pronged
approach towards support for critical-care technology development in response to the Covid-19 crisis, which is
expected to peak between July and October.
By building on these open-source designs, the team says it has developed a minimal viable product with elements
that can be manufactured through 3D printing and laser-cutting techniques. The designs will support the
development of critical control systems that protect patients supported by ventilators.
Sabatta said ventilators are complex medical devices, more intricate than simply squeezing a bag.
“Our product includes devices such as pressure sensors, flow sensors, and a number of control algorithms. It can
be set up to perform more advanced ventilation tasks such as pressure support ventilation (PSV) or synchronous
intermittent mandatory ventilation (SIMV). This is a step up in ventilation support, by being able to assist patients
further when they are tiring from being on continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) systems for extended
periods,” he said.
Sabatta said though the prototype has not yet been approved by the regulatory bodies, they hope to do this soon
before the expected Covid-19 peak in July.
“The idea is to share the prototype and have other people come on to make it viable,” he said.
Sabatta said they want the prototype to be scaled up and used not only in South Africa but in the rest of the
The UJ Process Energy and Environmental Technology Station (UJ-PEETS) is supporting efforts to identify
decommissioned ventilators at public and private hospitals, and to bring this out-of-service equipment back online.
Masebinu said: “Through our repair and maintenance undertaking, this assignment will build on the principles of
circularity and create employment opportunities since there are large amounts of equipment that can be repaired
and calibrated for reuse, especially beyond our borders. There is no sector more critical at this moment than
healthcare, which is why we are proud to play a role in helping to produce and revamp these critical life-saving
The UJ-PEETS team says it is gearing up to support small and medium-sized enterprises in the clinical technical
services sector to deliver on the 500% to 1 000% growth in ventilator production needed globally to prevent
Covid-19 deaths owing to product shortages.