Coronavirus: Afghan girls make ventilators out of car parts

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Girls are trying to produce fans at a fraction of the market price

Afghanistan's female robotics team has turned its focus to coronavirus patients – producing accessible ventilators with auto parts.

Teenagers made headlines in 2017 when they won a special award at an international competition in the U.S.

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Now they are running out of time to deliver fans by the end of May, at a fraction of the market price.

Afghanistan, suffering years of war, has at most only 400 fans for a population of 38.9 million.

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So far, more than 7,650 coronavirus cases and 178 deaths have been confirmed, but officials fear the situation could worsen and overwhelm an already fragile health system.

"It is really important that we can save a life with our effort," Nahid Rahimi, 17, told the BBC.

Known as "Afghan dreamers", the girls are from the western province of Herat, where the first case of Covid-19 in Afghanistan was reported.

It is the country's focal point for the pandemic because of its proximity to Iran, the epicenter of the outbreak region.

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Fears that Covid-19 could swallow Afghanistan's fragile health service

The girls, aged 14 to 17, built a prototype using an engine from a used Toyota Corolla and a chain drive from a Honda motorcycle.

They say their ventilators will provide temporary relief to patients with breathing difficulties in an emergency when standard ventilators are not available.

"I feel so proud to be part of a team that is trying to do something meaningful to support our doctors and nurses – they are our heroes right now," says Somaya Faruqi, captain of the team.

The global scarcity of fans is a problem and its high price of $ 30,000 to $ 50,000 in the global market means that many poorer countries cannot afford it.

But teenagers say they are building the much-needed device for less than $ 600 each.

With the stores closed and the city of Herat locked, the challenge that the girls are facing is to travel outside the province to pick up pieces.

But the group's founder, Roya Mahboob, an entrepreneur who ranks among Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world, says her team still hopes to deliver the fans by the end of May.

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The girls rose to fame in 2017, when their initial visa applications to the US were denied

"They are about 70% finished. The only thing we are missing is the air sensor, which we are trying to acquire instead of building from scratch, because it takes time.

"The first phase is completed and was tested in a hospital two days ago. The team is working on phase two, which, once completed, can be introduced to the market."

With less than 30% female literacy in the country, teenagers hope that their project will inspire others and change the perception of women in the engineering sector.

"This [being able to make ventilators] shows the importance of teaching young girls and the role of women as active citizens in our society ", says another team member, Elham Mansori, 16.

The initiative was well received by the Afghan government.

"I am happy that President Ashraf Ghani personally ordered the authorities to review our project and help us in every way possible," says Mahboob.

The Afghan health ministry is supporting girls.

"We appreciate the initiative, but, like any other scientific research, there are phases for it, such as discovery and development, pre-clinical research and, when offered on the market, it is analyzed and approved," said Waheed Mayar, spokesman for the Ministry of Health. Health. The BBC.

"Patient safety is our priority, so we need to ensure that the device is tested on animals in laboratories before being tested on patients with coronavirus."

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Media captionThe BBC was given exclusive access to spend a week with ambulance workers in Afghanistan.

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