This Filipino Doctor Developed a Low-Cost Ventilator to Fight COVID-19

GINHAWA is projected to cost 40% lower than other portable ventilators.

At least one good thing that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the display of bravery and heroism from ordinary people. From healthcare workers, supermarket staff, military and police to garbage disposal workers, the crisis proves that there is no shortage of men and women who have become heroes in our eyes simply by doing their job. 

PHOTO BY J. Amado Araneta Foundation

One person who certainly deserves this honor is Dr. Abundio "Bunds" Balgos. A pulmonologist and retired professor at the University of Philippines - College of Medicine, Dr. Balgos led a team of experts that developed ReliefVent, a locally made, low-cost, high-quality ventilator otherwise known as GINHAWA.

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According to the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of the Department of Science, at least 50% of patients in intensive care unit need a ventilator. Those who are severely ill from COVID-19 may need to be placed on a ventilator. 

"In many developing countries like the Philippines, there is only one ventilator per 10 ICU beds which may result to unwanted increase in mortality rates," the Department of Science and Technology - Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST - PCHRD) further says. "The prohibitive cost of acquiring a ventilator plus the inaccessibility of spare parts when a ventilator breaks down poses a challenge for small hospitals to acquire more units."

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Enter Dr. Balgos and his team, which includes Dr. Camilo Roa, Jr., and biomed equipment technical specialist Glenn Tuazon, along with members of the Philippine General Hospital Pulmonary Fellows, University of Philippines - Manila Administration, and software and hardware specialists. Together the team developed GINHAWA, a ventilator that can be used for both children and adults and is projected to cost 40% lower than other portable ventilators in the market.

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According to the J. Amado Araneta Foundation, which has honored Dr. Balgos by naming him a "Living Hero" in its Innovators Series, the project initially went into the backburner when the doctor became busy with academic activities and clinical practice. In 2012, Dr. Balgos and the team finally got funding to follow through with the project through PCHRD Chair Dr. Jaime Montoya. That started the slow but progressive development of GINHAWA, for which they already had initial human safety studies in 2017.

Ventilators have become crucial for patients gravely affected by COVID-19. There is currently a shortage of ventilators for patients who need respiratory support. With GINHAWA, controlled ventilation, assist-control ventilation, and synchronous intermittent mandatory ventilation will be eased, and at a much lower cost, compared to imported ventilators. Currently, the team is producing the final three prototypes prior to field testing of 30 ventilators in five hospitals.

"At the outset of the project, we already told the government authorities that we not only lack ventilators for our usual patients who go into respiratory failure," says Dr. Balgos. "The experience with the SARS, Ebola, H1N1, and MERSCOV epidemics made us realize that we have to be more ready and self-sufficient if another outbreak happens, which is what we have now. There are only approximately 1,500 working ventilators in the whole country, and if we get hit like China, Italy, and the U.S., we need more than 1,500 more ventilators."

Dr. Balgos currently runs The Health Centrum Hospital in Roxas City, Capiz and is actively collaborating with a group of materials engineers, studying the best methods for sterilization and safely recycling N95 and surgical masks, in the face of dwindling supplies and increasing need. 

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The J. Amado Araneta Foundation's Living Heroes Innovators Series pays tribute to trailblazers, pathfinders, and prime movers in this time of COVID-19 pandemic and hopes "to share inspiring stories of heroes to Filipinos and the world."

For the latest COVID-19 cases, check out our reportr COVID-19 case tracker link.

For the latest news and updates on COVID-19, check out reportr.world/covid-19.

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