Afghan girls build low-cost ventilator from car parts to fight coronavirus

Salaam Times and AFP


In this photograph taken on April 8 in Herat, members of an all-female robotic team build a ventilator in preparation for COVID-19 coronavirus patients. [Ahmad Idres Naderi/AFP]

KABUL -- A team of robot-designing girls in Afghanistan is trying to build a low-cost medical ventilator from car parts as health authorities look to boost critical-care capabilities for coronavirus patients.

As of Thursday (April 16), Afghanistan had 840 confirmed cases of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus, including 30 deaths. The true number of cases is feared to be much higher, as only limited testing kits are available.

Should the teenagers succeed and obtain government approval for their prototype, they say it could be replicated for as little as $300 (23,000 AFN), whereas normally ventilators sell for about $30,000 (2.3 million AFN).

"The team is working with local health specialists, as well as experts from Harvard University, to produce the prototype based on a design by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology," said Roya Mahboob, who runs an Afghan technology company and sponsors the group of five girls, aged 14-17.

They are part of a bigger group of high-achieving high-school girls known as the "Afghan Dreamers" from Herat, where the coronavirus is on the rise after thousands of Afghans returned from neighbouring Iran as it experienced a spike in cases.

The girls made headlines in 2017 after being denied visas to take part in a robotics competition in Washington -- before US President Donald Trump intervened and they were allowed to travel.

Using Toyota parts

They are taking engine and battery parts from a Toyota Corolla -- ubiquitous on the streets of Afghanistan -- to produce a prototype they started designing after the Herat governor called for more ventilators as coronavirus cases rose.

Central to the ventilator is a self-inflating plastic sac known as an Ambu bag that medical staff use to help patients breathe. The girls' prototype uses a mechanical system to operate the bag automatically and accurately.

"The complicated part is how to adjust the timing and pressure of pumping, as different patients require different volume and pressure of air based on their age and the severity of their condition," Sumaya Farooqi, the team's 17-year-old captain, told AFP.

With a population of 35 million, Afghanistan has only about 300 ventilators.

Officials have asked specialists and engineers to help the team, said Afghan Health Ministry spokesperson Wahidullah Mayar.

"We appreciate and encourage these hard-working girls, our sisters, for their efforts to produce ventilators," Mayar said.

Any ventilator prototype would need approval from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Health Ministry before the team could start producing more devices, Mayar said.

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Great, I ask more success for them from God. They are heroes and angels of the salvation of their country, as they are struggling in this critical situation to work for the rescue of their people.


I am sure, if Allah willing, the work of these girls will bear fruit. If this experience gets successful, the achievement should not be forgotten and work should be done immediately on its development and reproduction. If we get successful in this area, we can make and sell this same device to the neighboring countries too and this way we can get income. May Allah eliminate corona virus from all over the world as the flower-wise bouquet of the beautiful humans of the world get protected. 'This is surely no great matter for Allah.' [Holy Quran].


Long live Afghan all-girls’ robotics team. They have always gained pride for their country and their people. They actually showed that they are thinking about their people, and in this state of emergency, they are thinking of saving their compatriots.


What did the Afghan government do with the millions of dollar the World Bank helped Afghanistan to fight the corona disease? Why don't they buy ventilators from other countries with the money granted by the World Bank? I think all the money was stolen by the government officials. Currently, there are no facilities in the hospitals of the country to diagnose the corona virus. So far the government has done nothing to control the corona virus, except announcing quarantine in some cities. There aren't even any protective equipment and clothing for the medical staff and doctors to prevent themselves against the infection. You saw that several doctors in the country lost their lives due to lack of equipped clothing to protect themselves against the corona virus. Death to this incompetent government.


The Afghan all-girls’ robotics team is the pride of Afghanistan. They have always gained pride for Afghanistan, and I hope that this time they will also succeed in building ventilator, and do a service in order to save people of their country from corona disease.