Afghanistan has so far reported 2,200 cases and at least 64 deaths from coronavirus, although officials believe the actual numbers are higher. Two weeks ago, a United States Congress watchdog report warned that Afghanistan is headed toward a "health disaster" if a major outbreak occurs.
Fearing the worst, Afghan officials have tried to prepare however they can, including refurbishing hospitals that were abandoned due to bombing damage. Supplies are still needed, with many, including ventilators, on order in clinics as of April.
Concerned about the struggles their country is facing, members of the Afghan Dreamers, an all-girl's robotics team, decided to help. The high school-aged students came together under restrictions and limited supplies to create working ventilator prototypes, utilizing the materials available to them, including scrapped car parts.
According to the Associated Press, the team is designing two prototypes: One that's based on an open-source M.I.T. design and another that uses car parts as components for the devices. They hope to finish the ventilators and get them ready for testing and approval by the end of May.
The M.I.T. design focuses on keeping the cost of building a ventilator far below the $30,000 for standard machines. While the price tag varies depending on fluctuations in pricing for materials, the cost is around $400 to $500 per unit. For this design, the robotics team received guidance from M.I.T. professors to ensure the prototype worked correctly.
The second design is powered by the parts of a Toyota Corolla. These scrap pieces are plentiful in the country, and units made with this design can cost as little as $300. The team worked with local mechanics to obtain the parts.
These types of ventilators are for emergency use only, the team and their sponsor, Roya Mahboob, told Fast Company. However, they could come in handy if the country's supply of ventilators begins to run short. It's a real and frightening possibility, as Afghanistan has already admitted that many of their existing ventilators aren't functioning, leaving the country with only 400 for a population of more than 36.6 million people.
The all-girl's robotics team first made international waves in 2017, when the United States initially denied their visas to enter the country for a robotics competition. Though the original members have graduated, the team has lived on through more high school aged girls hoping to fight discrimination against women through proof of action. Now, the team is 50 members strong. The group that created the ventilators, however, only included six members, ages 14 to 17, due to the families' pandemic-related lockdowns and health concerns.
"We were so excited to join the challenge in this pandemic crisis and that the local government believed in our ability and skills to work on such an important project," team member Nahid Rahimi told Fast Company. "And it was very important to us if we could save one life through this effort."
Mahboob said that she hopes the girls' efforts can inspire their fellow countrymen during a time of great hardship.
"Looking at these young teenagers, they give us hope for Afghanistan," she told the publication, "that we are going in the right direction."