IEEE Kenyatta University Students Innovate Smart Mechanical Ventilator in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic

“Daring to dream big goes a long way. When there is a problem around you, looking for solutions within is more effective than looking for them without. In our case, we found the solution for the desolation in ourselves. It is crucial that we learn to believe in ourselves.”


Today we take a look at an emerging and vibrant Student Branch in Kenya that responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by building a mechanical ventilator. The ventilator assists patients who have breathing difficulties. I interviewed the team lead and the current IEEE Kenya Section Students’ Representative, Fidel Makatia, to get further insights on how they developed this.

kenyan students ventilatorHow Does it Work?

The ventilator has two modes, IPPV and SIMV modes. The first mode offers mandatory breaths to patients who completely cannot breathe on their own. The second one assists patients that can breathe on their own but are not able to achieve volumes. It alternates the spontaneous breaths and mandatory breaths. The machine has pressure sensors, flow sensors and oxygen sensors to monitor and regulate the respective parameters based on settings.

The ventilator also has a user interface(UI) used for settings and monitoring. The UI can connect to multiple devices simultaneously and remotely. This aids in preventing spread of the disease in the instance a medical practitioner lacks personal protective equipment, as they can access remotely. Similarly, this addresses the shortage of medics in the country. The ventilator also has alarms that seek to protect the patient. For example, if the set pressure is not being achieved, an alarm is sounded. It also has logs for all the critical alarms and information for the past 72hrs

Motivation Behind the Innovation

Emergence of Covid-19 pandemic came with a lot of turmoil. Thus, my team and I sought to use our skills to bring hope to the desolate society. Covid 19 patients suffer from difficulty in breathing. Owing to the global pandemic, there was a shortage of ventilators. At the same time, the existing ones were very expensive. This ventilator would assist patients in breathing. Additionally they are locally available and affordable. Moreover, we would be aiding patients in breathing as well as easing the headache of the government on attaining ventilators.

kenyan students ventilatorThe Team Behind the Innovation

Our team is constitutes two electrical engineers, six biomedical engineers, three mechanical engineers, one civil engineer, a medical, a pharmacy student and a nursing student. We are 15 in total. We are members of PES, Photonics, Comsoc, Signal Processing Society, Women in Engineering  and EMBS Society. Myself (team leader) I am the Kenya section student representative and the chair of Kenyatta University SB. Cynthia (one of the team members) is the chairlady for WIE Kenyatta University chapter. 

Lessons Learned

The aim of the project was to come up with a locally available, affordable mechanical ventilator that would assist covid-19 patients in breathing. We learned the following:

  • Engineering is multidisciplinary. We could not have done it alone without the help of other engineering students in diverse fields, medical students and our mentors.  The importance of a team is undeniable. As a team we complemented each other, got diverse perspectives and got the job done.
  • Daring to dream big goes a long way. When there is a problem around you, looking for solutions within is more effective than looking for them without. In our case, we found the solution for the desolation in ourselves. It is crucial that we learn to believe in ourselves.

The Mentor Team

Our Vice chancellor, Prof. Paul Wainaina, Our dean, an Electrical Engineer (Dr. Shaddrack Mambo) , Professor Nicholas Gikonyo a pharmacist, Dr Gorgon Ogweno a medical doctor and professional anesthetist, Dr Ken Iloka a Biomedical Engineer, Dr June Madete a biomedical engineer, Dr. George Kosimbei an economist, Dr. John Alumasa a critical care nurse , Dr. George Magore a mechanical engineer,  Dr. Thuita an industrial Pharmacist  and Dr. Priscilla Kabue Dean school of nursing were some of  our mentors.

All in all, mentors are people who make the journey to where you are going easier, as they have been there before. Ours are specialized in diverse fields. They advised us on the best means of achieving our goals in a shorter and more effective way. The team consisted of the users of the product and engineers who have worked with such a product before.

kenyan students ventilatorImpact of the Ventilator

The ventilator project has inspired more people to come up with solutions to solve covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, it has given a directive to the government to support local manufacturing industries. It has also been a source of hope to Kenyans, seeing a solution is come from among their own. It has also made Kenyans have trust in their institutions of higher learning.

Advice to Government and Health Institutions

Solutions come from within rather than without. Thus, they should endeavor to support projects from institutions of higher learning. Moreover, they should encourage local manufacturing industries, so we can build our economy and have ready solutions. Conferences should also be organized more often targeting enabling technologies in the health sector. Students and young professionals should attend to encourage more solutions. The government should also strengthen our universities and research centers to enable self-sufficiency in times as such.

Winners of the UBORA Design Competition 2020.kenyan students ventilator

UBORA is a platform that champions for biomedical engineers globally. Having won the competition gave us global recognition for our product. This encourages us and other developers to come up with solutions solving problems in the medical sector. It also shows institutions from the third world countries are up to the task.

Final Words to Stakeholders in the Health Sector

A lot of solutions lay dormant, especially in institutions of higher learning, due to lack of finances. Channeling finances to such, especially the ones geared to solving health problems, will encourage more innovations. These are the solutions that will reduce the impact of health pandemics. At the instance of need, they will be up and running. Hence support for them should be encouraged.