As the old saying goes, "every cloud has a silver lining." Local initiatives have been springing up to help fight the coronavirus pandemic in bankrupt Lebanon. I. Network Automation, founded by engineer Kousra Sakr, and Phoenix Machinery, a member of the Indevco group chaired by MP Neemat Frem, are leading the efforts to manufacture mechanical ventilators urgently needed to assist coronavirus patients suffering from acute respiratory distress.
The two companies, which have each created a prototype for a mechanical lung ventilator, are preparing to test them on animals, in cooperation with university hospital institutions. "Lebanon has only 900 artificial respirators, 720 in private hospitals and 180 in the public sector," Sleiman Haroun, president of the Private Hospitals Association, told L’Orient-Le Jour. "If we take into account that 10% of them are defective and many are already in use, then only 300 respirators are available for coronavirus patients."
This would be greatly insufficient in case of a very significant expansion of coronavirus in Lebanon. Some 368 cases have been registered up to March 26, 2020, according to official counts; but within three days only, 100 new cases have been reported. The problem is even more serious as the country imports most of its sophisticated medical equipment, mainly artificial respirators. "But with the dollars shortage, opening letters of credit has become an impossible task; not to mention that air traffic is currently interrupted, including air freight," said Haroun.
While American, German, Swiss and French manufacturers are racing against the clock to supply countries with sufficient mechanical ventilators, Lebanon has no alternative but to rely on its own resources and creative people.
Initial tests using a balloon
Kousra Sakr, a graduate engineer from the Beirut School of Engineering at Saint Joseph University (ESIB) who completed robotics training in France, decided nearly a month ago to put his company, I. Network Automation, at the service of the Lebanese health care system. His company, established in 1992, offers extensive know-how in custom made solutions and engineering and is well-known locally and internationally. "Our patented ICASH LTD system, used by the Banque du Liban(BDL), is a benchmark in managing banknote flows, in vaults, agencies and delivery centers," explained Sakr. It was the severity of the pandemic that pushed him into the field of medical technology, a field already on his radar. "With the help of our team of engineers and information provided by doctors, in particular Dr. Pierre Edde, all what we did is to use a 50-year-old technology and develop its (technical) standards," he said. Simultaneously, the working team developed an information technology (IT) platform to monitor the patient's vital parameters, airway pressure, tidal volume. The next step by Sakr was to launch his prototype, after having completed in his laboratories the first tests using a balloon.
He contacted Father Salim Daccache, the rector of the Saint Joseph University (USJ) and President of the Administrative Board of the Hôtel-Dieu de France Hospital, and Fady Geara, the director of "Ecole Supérieure d’Ingénieurs de Beyrouth" (ESIB). He sent them a video of his prototype, prompting USJ and its university hospital to quickly mobilize their capacities to conduct scientific tests. Sakr was also to meet with Dr. Georges Dabar, pulmonologist-resuscitator at HDF, to prepare test protocols. "Based on initial tests conducted on animals, we would be asked to modify or adjust certain parameters," he explained, noting that the data will be defined by the doctors.
Once the tests are completed and the data corrected, industrialization and mass production will become possible. "Manufacturing and assembling will then become a matter of manpower," said Sakr, who pledged to provide the equipment (machine) and the software at a maximum cost of $3,000 - without making any profit - to any hospital in Lebanon, provided that "they are not resold for commercial purposes." Father Daccache , who warned that the needs would become increasingly urgent in case of the coronavirus spread, said: "We are doing it for the whole country, and not only for the HDF."
A long process
L'OLJ was unable to reach MP Neemat Frem, the president of Phoenix Machinery. But he announces on his Facebook page that the first Lebanese prototype of artificial respirator, developed by his company in line with international standards to confront the threat posed by the coronavirus, is ready after two weeks of intensive work. The testing of this prototype should start very soon, in cooperation with Notre-Dame University Hospital in Jounieh.
Sleiman Haroun welcomed both initiatives, saying "it is imperative to be ready" in case of a huge rise in coronavirus cases. He, however, remains cautious . "The trials have started, and we will wait to see the results. It is a long process. But one has to assume that there is no room to make mistakes, because these are vital machines." Without doubting the optimism of the industrialists, Haroun maintained that the development of such sophisticated equipments requires extensive experience, research and qualifications.
"Creating a medical industry cannot be done in just a few months, even with brilliant engineers," Haroun said, although he recognized "the serious approach" of the two companies. “ Both men (behind this initiative) are trusted people and what they have accomplished is a good start. I am certain that they will not risk manufacturing medical equipment that are inaccurate and non-functional."
(This article was originally published on the 27th of March)
As the old saying goes, "every cloud has a silver lining." Local initiatives have been springing up to help fight the coronavirus pandemic in bankrupt Lebanon. I. Network Automation, founded by engineer Kousra Sakr, and Phoenix Machinery, a member of the Indevco group chaired by MP Neemat Frem, are leading the efforts to manufacture mechanical ventilators urgently needed to assist...