Innovations to fight a pandemic


A major concern in the battle against Covid 19 has been the high risk of infection for healthcare providers who have to work in close proximity with patients. The last couple of months have seen a few medical innovations from Indian startups, which should make us proud, writes Dr. Rina Mukherji.

While organisations and individuals have come forth to help strengthen the hands of the government through charity, especially serving food and arranging shelter for the poor and those rendered penniless owing to the lockdown that has followed the coronavirus pandemic, a multiplicity of innovations has marked the fight against Covid 19 all over India.

Of course, this is not surprising in a land known for frugal or “jugaadu” innovations, wherein improvised solutions hammered out of scant resources has always been the norm.

A major concern in this fight has been the increased risk of infection for healthcare providers, since they get exposed to infected oral and nasal secretions, particularly when handling patients on ventilators. Bangalore -based Innaccel Technologies has come up with Vapcare, which is the world’s first automated system that can automatically remove oral secretions from ventilators catering to infected patients. This enables automated clearance from the oral, oropharyngeal and subglottic regions and helps save on time spent to manually remove oral secretions from ventilators. This, in turn, protects patients from Ventilator Associated Pneumonia ( VAP), which is often linked to the deaths of patients in intensive care units (ICUs). VAP Care has already received approval from the US FDA, and is a shining example of a medical innovation designed, engineered and manufactured in India.

With the shortage of ventilators a worrisome problem worldwide, several manufacturers have steped in to deal with the current scenario. Innacel, for instance, has come up with SaansPro, a non-invasive portable ventilation system that can work without uninterrupted electricity. Equipped with flow and pressure control, and oxygen blending facilities, Saans Pro is especially useful for the transport of the critically ill to referral centres, since it operates on batteries that can provide a backup mounting to six hours. The Skylark Group has gone a step further in developing a motorized ventilator which is suitable as a back-up in emergency situations. This portable ventilator does not use batteries, but a small motor to operate. The ventilator is also equipped with a screen to facilitate monitoring, as Skylark Director Dr Vikas Dhull points out.

Mumbai-based Imaginarium has come up with several low-cost medical and other innovations too. Imaginarium has come up with low-cost face shields that are far more effective to protect individuals (particularly health workers) from infection, as compared to a single mask. Of course, the ideal situation would be the use of a face shield along with a mask. Explaining the idea of the face shield, CEO Nishant Shah explains, “A face shield prevents infected secretion from coming in contact with any part of the face. This can be especially useful for health workers and the police, who are exposed to infected persons during the course of their duties.” Priced at just Rs 100, these face shields are being distributed free in bulk by Imaginarium to the police. It has also developed aerosol boxes for being used on patients confined to ICUs. These low-cost devices made up of medical grade plastic can fit over the patient’s chest and neck, and are equipped with two openings on the opposite side for medical personnel to insert their tubes through. This helps doctors to shield themselves from any aerosol particles that may be released from the patient’s airways during medical procedure. Although aerosol boxes had been around for quite some time, they were expensive. Imaginarium’s aerosol boxes, however, are 40 per cent cheaper compared to what is available in the market, and priced around Rs 5000.

A major concern is the spread of the Covid 19 virus through surfaces that people need to touch all the time. To prevent people coming in contact with door handles that end up transmitting the virus, Imaginarium has invented bio-compatible polyamide door handles. This prevents individuals from touching door handles in the course of their work, and hence reduces the risk of infection, particularly in hospitals and offices. Currently, the company has eight different versions of these handles to fit into doors of all sizes and types.

At a time when active Covid 19 cases are rapidly spreading throughout the country, it is important for places outside containment zones too, to be secure from infections. For this purpose, frequent handwashing is an imperative. However, one cannot have soap dispensers or sanitizers touched by people, lest infections spread among members of the community. This is where Fortune Retail’s modestly-priced, foot pedal- operated automatic soap dispenser can be a blessing anywhere. Made of mild steel, and available in two models-standard and height -adjustable, this soap dispenser can be easily set up anywhere with the help of screws that can be fixed to any surface. Once the pedal is pressed, the movement is transmitted to the arm above and the soap is dispensed to the user’s palm held underneath. There is hence, no contact with the individual’s hand, doing away with any risk of infection. Priced at just Rs 1500, this soap dispenser is fast catching on in and around Delhi for use outdoors and otherwise, in spite of lockdown-related transportation issues.

The spread of Covid 19 has especially made it difficult for households to consume foodstuff bought outdoors, since the virus can adhere to surfaces and spread the infection. The problem also extends to cash and other necessities handled by us. A collaborative effort by two startups-Gtarang Energy and Manastu Space, seeks to solve this problem through a virus-free cabin that uses Ultraviolet C light technology. The object to be sanitized can be placed inside the cabin/container for five minutes, and once it is sanitized, a small light bulb placed outside glows indicating the completion of the process. One can then remove the duly sanitized product.

Developed by startups, each of these products tells us a great deal about the entrepreneurial and innovative genius embedded deep within out national psyche. It is high time we acknowledged the same, and set India on the path of true self-reliance.

Dr. Rina Mukherji

A senior journalist, Dr. Rina Mukherji specialises in all aspects of sustainable development, with special focus on the environment and climate change. She has been a UGC doctoral fellow, and holds a doctorate in African Studies, with specialisation in Third World conflict and developmental issues. She is currently an independent journalist based in Pune.