05302020

Afghan girls help coronavirus response by designing ventilators from unusual parts


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The five teenage members of Afghanistan’s prize-winning girls’ robotics team are on a lifesaving mission: making ventilators from used car parts to help their war-stricken country battle the coronavirus pandemic.

Afghanistan has faced the pandemic nearly empty-handed. Officials said the country had only 400 ventilators for a population of more than 36.6 million. So far, it has reported this weekend just over 900 coronavirus cases, including 30 deaths, but the actual number is suspected to be much higher since test kits have been in short supply.

“If we even save one life with our device, we will be proud,” said Somaya Farooqi, 17.

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Afghanistan’s prize-winning girls’ robotics team has been working to help first responders battle the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Hamed Safarazi)

Herat province in western Afghanistan has been one of the nation’s hot spots because of its proximity to Iran, the region’s epicenter of the outbreak. This devastation has spurred Farooqi and her team members, ages 14 to 17, to help come up with a solution.

“We are the new generation,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “We fight and work for people. Girl and boy, it does not matter anymore.”

Girls developing two types of cheap ventilator devices using car spare parts to help the fight against the coronavirus pandemic in Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan.  (AP Photo/Hamed Safarazi)

Girls developing two types of cheap ventilator devices using car spare parts to help the fight against the coronavirus pandemic in Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan.  (AP Photo/Hamed Safarazi)

At the workshop, the team has been experimenting with two different designs, including an open-source blueprint from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The parts being used included the motor of a Toyota windshield wiper, batteries and sets of bag valve masks, or manual oxygen pumps. A group of mechanics helped them build the frame of a ventilator.

Daniela Rus, a professor at MIT, welcomed the team’s initiative to develop the prototype. “It will be excellent to see it tested and locally produced,” she said.

The robotics team had a limited number of special permits for cars. (AP Photo/Hamed Safarazi)

The robotics team had a limited number of special permits for cars. (AP Photo/Hamed Safarazi)

Tech entrepreneur Roya Mahboob, who founded the team and has raised funds to empower girls, said she hoped Farooqi’s group will finish building a prototype by May or June. In all, the team has had 15 members working on various projects.

The ventilator model, once completed, would then be sent to the Health Ministry for testing, initially on animals, spokesman Wahid Mayar said.

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Farooqi, who was just 14 years old when she participated in the first World Robot Olympiad in the U.S., in 2017, said she and her team members hoped to make a contribution.

“Afghans should be helping Afghanistan in this pandemic,” she said. “We should not wait for others.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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