Kiwi ingenuity helps patients breathe easier

In March, when Covid-19 rates were surging to frightening levels, one of the most pressing questions was whether hospitals had enough ventilators to meet a flood of patients.

They didn’t: internal reports since released showed that up to 4000 projected patients at any one time would’ve had access to fewer than 900 of the machines.

Ventilators, which move air in and out of the lungs, are one of the few interventions that help critical Covid-19 patients.

Global demand for them remains at an all-time high and many countries are scrambling to produce and manufacture as many they can.

Major players like Ford and Dyson have rushed forward overseas, but New Zealand’s effort has been one of nimble ingenuity in the Kiwi tradition.

One project by Hamilton-based ES Plastics aims to pump out 100 units of a prototype per day.

Remarkably, the firm’s managing director Jeff Sharp managed to develop and manufacture his machine, the RESPirator, within a week.

Sharp sought clinical input into the design from two emergency medicine specialists, Dr Martyn Harvey and Dr Giles Chanwai, who also happened to be his neighbours in rural Waikato.

The RESPirator design is based on an old-style pneumatic ventilator that was used in Waikato Hospital until around 2008, and development has been boosted with a $457,000 Government grant.