Media Release | 14 December 2020
Hall & Wilcox is delighted to have provided pro bono assistance to a Newcastle group of inventors on the development of SparkVent, an innovative ventilator designed for use in developing countries during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Anaesthetist Dr Hamish Meares this week sent SparkVent to Pakistan, after working on the design with a group of friends since March 2020. He was motivated to develop SparkVent after realising early on during the COVID-19 crisis that ventilators would be critical for patients but he knew that supply would be a problem due to the long manufacturing lead time, coupled with huge demand.
Dr Meares worked with friends who were mechanical engineers, industrial designers and mechanics at Sparkhaus, a Newcastle Makerspace, to come up with an original prototype. Dr Duncan Campbell, a retired anaesthetist who designed the Campbell Ventilator, provided further advice, including the idea of using a venturi design, which led to a second prototype.
‘It was crazy at the beginning. We are a small team, all volunteers, and we were just trying to move as fast as we could to design a ventilator that could potentially save lives,’ Dr Meares said.
‘Our aim was to make a simple, cheap ventilator that will hopefully get use well beyond the COVID-19 crisis.’
Dr Meares said the advantage of the venturi design is that it has only one moving part, making it a much safer and cheaper option for developing countries that may not have the extra health resources needed to support standard ventilators. While a standard ventilator costs about A$15,000, SparkVent costs around A$500.
‘With a standard ventilator, you need fully functional biomedical departments to keep it running. Originally, I was concentrating on the patients who will end up in an ICU. But putting patients in an ICU bed in developing countries consumes a huge amount of resources. There will be a larger group of patients that will be struggling to breathe but don’t need an ICU bed and they will be most helped by this ventilator,’ he said.
The SparkVent design is available on an open-source basis to allow this life-saving technology to be manufactured in developing countries free of charge. Dr Meares said there are plans to increase manufacture of SparkVent locally to address urgent need in these overseas communities. SparkVent is not designed to be used in Australia.
Newcastle Partner Matthew Smith said Hall & Wilcox’s pro bono assistance included setting up a company for the venture, applying for appropriate charitable exemptions and advising on intellectual property issues.
‘It’s not often that you get the opportunity to donate your time to a project that could have a profound impact on saving lives in developing countries across the globe,’ he said.
‘It was very fulfilling to work with Newcastle people who had developed this quite novel and pragmatic solution to an immediate problem of the global pandemic.’
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