(BBC Future) – The world needs more ventilators – but scaling up production is more complex than it seems. Around the world, thousands of volunteers are working hard to fill the gaps.
There are not enough ventilators available in hospitals right now for all of the potential patients who will be struck by the virus. An influential report from Imperial College London estimates that 30% of Covid-19 hospitalised patients are likely to require mechanical ventilation. The only way to avoid overwhelming intensive care units, it says, is with a mandatory lockdown that reduces social contact by 75%.
But some countries have been slow to act accordingly – and it is still uncertain that we can sustain extended isolation measures over the “several months” they may be needed. As a result, a ventilator shortage remains imminent in many parts of the world, as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plea for 30,000 units shows.
In terms of their core function, ventilators are not extraordinarily complicated machines. Basically, they are sophisticated pumps – they control the oxygen and air flow from the patient’s lungs, supporting them while they cannot do their work.
So why are they so difficult to design?
Because it isn’t their function that is difficult. It’s that they have to operate in an extremely reliable way in a high-stakes environment.
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