Talent: Uruguay anticipates difficulties and develops ventilators to face COVID-19

Two multidisciplinary teams produced 50 devices in record time, which will serve as back-up in the event of a lack of inputs.
Publication date: 16/07/2020

As part of its successful management of the pandemic, Uruguay is anticipating a possible shortage in the health system and has completed the production of 50 ventilators in just 40 days. Under a call for proposals issued by the National Research Agency (ANII) and the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining (MIEM), consortiums of companies created two models of artificial ventilators with the advice of academic and scientific institutions. Thus, the country takes a further step in its strategy to combat COVID-19, bringing out the best of its national talent.

Although Uruguay has managed to flatten the infection curve and today presents one of the lowest figures of critical patients and deaths in the continent, the country chose to anticipate the contingencies and deployed a series of calls for scientists and professionals in the technology sector, in order to generate innovative responses after the arrival of the coronavirus.

In that line of work, ANII and MIEM selected two initiatives to develop 50 lung ventilators, which were supported with 140 thousand dollars. As a result of the joint work of technologists, engineers, and professionals from different disciplines, a model of modular respirator was created, aimed at expanding the capacity of hospitals, and another mobile model, easily transportable. Both types of equipment meet international standards for the manufacture of rapid ventilators in the framework of the current health emergency.

Trust and unity of purpose, keys to innovation 

The consortium formed by Spectrum Uruguay, Vivestar, Fundación Latitud, and Inteka is responsible for giving life to the project "Modular Emergency Pneumatic Ventilators (RNME) for individual or collective connections". Thanks to the joint work of a multidisciplinary group of professionals, made up of a medical team, a mechanical-pneumatic team, an electrical-electronic team, a design team and a production team, an efficient, economic and fast construction device was developed, with easily affordable materials that do not require a specific supplier.

The head of the project and director of Vivestar, Pablo Díaz, highlighted the "strong unity of purpose" as a key aspect in the implementation of the project. 

In that sense, Díaz said that the successful result obtained demonstrates "the capacity to react and the technical capacity" that exists in the country to face challenging circumstances. "In Uruguay, we have people who have the capacity. If those of us who are in the country seek to empower ourselves and work in different disciplines together, surely we have much to contribute to our continent," he said. 

The businessman highlighted Uruguay's potential as a supplier of medical supplies for other countries in the region, due to the suitability of Uruguayan professionals and the vast experience of working in the field. "We are perfectly able to seek affordable solutions for countries with fewer resources and offer a service where our people can put all their skills to use," he emphasized. 

Thanks to the favorable evolution of the pandemic in Uruguay, the country has not had to resort to manufactured equipment, but in order to share the outcome of this process, the creators of RNME created a website so that the experience could be replicated in other countries. "We leave all the engineering of the project free for anyone who wants to reproduce it. We want to share the results so that they can be used in other places in Latin America, so that whoever wants to manufacture ventilators can do so, using our plans and our engineering", Díaz explained. 

The Uruguayan Know-How 

The companies Ingenca and Pensur are responsible for Respirone, the project that gave life to a mobile model, of great speed and effectiveness, and that covers 95% of respiratory pathologies. Based on previous research of medical documentation, a piece of small equipment was designed, easily transportable in ambulances, and able to be installed both in hospitals and in non-conventional places. With a battery allowing for up to four hours of autonomy, the device has two breathing modes: one controlled by volume and the other by pressure. Besides being very intuitive and simple to program, it is easy to clean and sterilize. 

The ventilator was developed based on affordable inputs, in order to generate an economical device, below the market value. "We looked for materials that did not have surprises, we wanted to do something new but not reinvent the wheel," said Germán Bardier, director of Ingenca and responsible for Respirone. 

"We wanted to create a portable device to take it in an ambulance and move it from one place to another," he said. In addition, he stressed the importance of the ventilator being inexpensive, so that it could be reproduced in large quantities. 

Regarding the production process of the devices, Bardier highlighted the success of the experience and the value of having a common purpose to the team. "We knew that if we got together electrical engineers, mechanics, electronics technicians, and so on, we could come up with something that was not at all like a respirator from Europe or the United States, with years of development," he said. 

In this sense, the head of Respirone stressed the high level of professionals involved and the knowledge accumulated after overcoming challenges like this. "This experience teaches us that in the country there is a lot of capacity. Uruguay has the know-how to develop medical equipment", he highlighted.

Synergy and talent

The president of ANII, Flavio Caiafa, highlighted the successful outcome of the call and the high quality of the devices generated. "The idea was to make ventilators easy to build, low cost, with minimum capacities to face a possible peak (in the number of infections). Fortunately, this peak never came. We made ventilators of an excellent level in 40 days, better in their capacity than minimum equipment", highlighted the head of the company. 

The success of the public-private partnership reflects the great "coordination and articulation" that exists between "research institutions, industry, innovators, and engineering companies," said Caiafa. "They are an excellent example that in Uruguay there is the capacity to do things well and efficiently and quickly," he said.

Likewise, the speaker underlined the expertise of Uruguayan professionals, which was highlighted in the present experience. "One of the prerequisites for research and innovation, and for those things to be a key factor in economic and social development, is human capacity. Nobody doubts that this exists in Uruguay," he stressed. 

A favorable ecosystem and an attractive regulatory framework are some of the distinctive features of Uruguay, which explain the remarkable expansion of its pharmaceutical and life sciences sector. In addition to an agile network of institutions, attentive to the needs of the sector, the country has an active policy for the promotion of investments. In addition to its advanced technological infrastructure, the country has a high availability of professionals for R&D, in a country that makes national talent its shield against the coronavirus. 

To access the RNME website, please click here.

To access the Respirone website, please click here