Doctors at the Port of Spain General Hospital’s ICU testing prototype Face Shields made by Label House Ltd. in conjunction with The UWI. The pink post-it on each face shield includes notes on each prototype. (Image: The UWI)

The Faculty of Engineering at the University of the West Indies has embarked on a project to locally manufacture medical equipment to protect the public, as well as health workers.

It is the latest in a number of initiatives the University has embraced, as staff, students and alumni continue to be involved in different facets of the national effort against COVID-19.

Campus Principal, Professor Brian Copeland, challenged the team of engineers to come up with a way to produce items in short supply internationally, starting with “UWI-vent” ventilator system to assist those with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), face shields, N95 face masks for medical professionals, as well as face masks for the general public.

The project is a collaborative effort with the Ministry of Health, the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA), local manufacturers, CARIRI, members of the business community and even individuals.

However, the UWI St Augustine Principal says there is still much more to be done and much greater participation from industry, business and the public is required.

“We believe that not only is this effort necessary to mitigate the very real danger of lives lost to COVID-19 if ever or whenever there is  a lack of essential medical equipment,” said Professor Copeland, “but also it is a chance for the people of Trinidad and Tobago to take an active stance in the fight against this pandemic and the protection of our citizens and medical personnel.”

The initiative was started in early March by Mr Jeevan Persad, Senior Engineering Technician in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (DECE), within UWI St Augustine’s Faculty of Engineering. He was motivated by the potential danger of medical equipment shortages if the pandemic were to expand beyond Trinidad and Tobago’s capacity to safely address. Such shortages are currently taking place in the countries hit hardest by COVID-19.

“We realised that we have to start building our manufacturing base now, before it becomes a crisis,” said Persad. “We were being proactive, not reactive.”

In mid-March, Professor Copeland directed Persad and his team of six engineers to ascertain the potential risks and needs, and to develop medical equipment, and the necessary linkages to locally source materials and manufacture the equipment.

UWI’s initial role is to design and build efficient and safe medical equipment. Many available designs for items such as ventilators are not only inadequate for our local needs but also potentially dangerous.

“At present we are working with Doctor Anthony Parkinson, Director of the NWRHA, Dr Gervais Rocke of POS General, and Dr Reisha Seebaransingh and Dr Keevan Singh of San Fernando General to ensure the quality, workability and safety of the designs and equipment,” said Persad. “We are working with the TTMA to ensure that any items that are manufactured also adhere to standards of quality and safety—particularly during a pandemic of this nature. In addition, through the kind assistance of Miguel Andrews and the staff at CARIRI, we are testing materials such as plastics and textiles to ensure their quality for the use in face guards and masks.”

Apart from designing equipment, the UWI team also is making the necessary connections required to create what is essentially a new manufacturing sector in a very short space of time.

Professor Copeland said: “This cannot succeed without the support of the business community, engineers, scientists, the industrial sector and government. Companies such as Label House, Advanced Foam, Ace Printery, Lensyl Products, Daisy’s Exclusive, TYE Manufacturing, MIC, Peake Technologies Ltd., Thermoplas, Electrosign Ltd. and V&S Pharmaceuticals have stepped up and shown their national pride and social conscience. Individuals such as Mr. Gregory Aboud, Ms. Wendy Fitzwilliam and Mrs. Angela Hordatt have done so as well. However, we need much more support.”

The UWI team needs funding, local manufacturers, and materials such as plastics, textiles and mechanical components. They are requesting the support of the national community in sourcing these resources.

Persad says the energy sector, in particular, may have materials and components for equipment like ventilators.

For more information on how to assist, please contact UWI St Augustine at [email protected]

Additional information on giving financial contributions will also be available soon on the campus’s COVID-19 website at https://sta.uwi.edu/covid19.