By Robert Muller
PRAGUE (Reuters) - A Czech team have built a ventilator using readily available parts and are planning to produce hundreds of the devices to treat seriously ill coronavirus patients.
The volunteer scientists, engineers and designers of the Covid19.CZ group - who say their device costs about one fifth of the current market price - collected more than $500,000 in a 24-hour crowd-funding campaign to "help save the lives of moms, dads, grandmothers and grandfathers".
Their goal is to supply hospitals with 500 certified ventilators in the coming weeks, which would increase the number of devices available for COVID-19 patients in the Czech Republic by about 40%.
"We followed the situation Italy and some things quickly became clear, with news about people lacking ventilators and doctors facing the hard choice of who to let live and who to let die," Vojtech Rocek, one of the founders of the CoroVent project, told Reuters in an online interview.
The group wanted to help Czechs avoid a similar plight and to ensure seriously ill patients have access to potentially life-saving professional ventilators.
While do-it-yourself efforts to build ventilators have sprouted around the globe, the Czech team have the support of the industry and health ministries, which are helping with the approval process and to finance production.
University students in neighbouring Slovakia have built a stopgap device, but the Czech team - who plan to share their open source design worldwide after delivering 10 certified and functioning devices - sought a more permanent solution.
"We plan to release the design during this crisis, so that groups can manufacture it in America and other parts of the world," said Pavel Dolezal, another of the project founders, who only met online during the design process due to social distancing requirements.
The Czech Republic, which had reported 3,869 cases of coronavirus with 46 deaths as of Friday morning, has implemented tough measures such as requiring face masks and restricting non-essential movement to curb the virus and avoid a surge of patients needing critical care.
Czech hospitals have not so far reported ventilator shortages but want to ensure they can meet demand in future.
The group's CoroVent ventilator is a simple design intended to be reliable while also meeting hospital standards. The designers drew inspiration from years of work on a similar project at the Czech Technical University.
(Reporting by Robert Muller in PRAGUE, Radovan Stoklasa in BRATISLAVA; Editing by Michael Kahn and Giles Elgood)