Air of innovation helps Flyer fight COVID in Ghana
In Ghana, a West African country of more than 29 million people and only 67 ventilators, Fred McBagonluri ’05 is leading a project to create ventilator prototypes from local materials.
The president and provost of Academic City College in the Ghanaian capital of Accra and a graduate of UD’s materials engineering doctoral program said he felt called to act to help his country. Despite a March 15 partial shutdown, the country has more than 5,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“Like most people, I was unsure where this pandemic was headed,” said McBagonluri, “but I knew that should it spread to Ghana, or for that matter in Africa, it will be uncontainable due to poor existing health infrastructure.
“So in the spirit of Pro Deo et Patria (UD’s motto, “For God and Country”), I sprang into action.”
McBagonluri and his team created two prototypes — one motor-driven using a windshield wiper and one using 3D-printed pistons — in one sleepless week. He wanted a solution affordable to the people of Ghana, where the average family earns a monthly income equivalent of between $260 and $990 USD. Current prototypes are set to be produced for about $174 USD.
McBagonluri said the ventilator could be assembled by trained technicians in 25 minutes, with production potentially doubling the number of ventilators in Ghana in 36 hours.
“I think focusing on local resources, revamping educational institutions around national aspirations and driving innovation will be the key to defeating other global challenges yet to come,” McBagonluri said. “My experience at UD Research Institute, where I watched with curiosity and interest how federal aspirations were strategically aligned with higher education, was an intriguing combination of industry experience and education.”
McBagonluri, who put out a call for volunteers on Facebook, said he was humbled by the response from students who braved the pandemic to contribute. Among the volunteers were students on full scholarship and a former student of McBagonluri’s who returned to Ghana to help.
“Having students give back to our country at this early stage of their academic career was inspiring,” McBagonluri said. “They needed little direction to get to work, and their collaborative spirit informed by one of Academic City College’s core pillars — transdisciplinary unified learning — was inspiring. In a nation that is easily dismissive of her innovators, for one to see volunteers and sophomore students at work to serve a national cause was nourishing.”
McBagonluri said the ingenuity of his ventilator lab demonstrates the innovation available in Ghana. Too often, he said, innovation in the developing world is overlooked and undervalued. According to McBagonluri, many national-scale projects are externally sourced due to the misunderstanding that developing countries are unable to do the work themselves.
“The so-called lack of innovation is an attitudinal attribute of the prevailing ecosystem rather than in the engineers and scientists that have risen to global acclaim elsewhere,” he said.
The ventilator prototypes have been confirmed by the Ghana Standard Authorities and are awaiting the next stage of government approval on their way to saving lives.
Along with the tangible innovations, McBagonluri has also brought hope and excitement in the face of crisis.
“The nation must innovate in order to survive.”
“This pandemic shows the connectedness of the world and obviously our unpreparedness as well,” McBagonluri said. “It also teaches a great lesson that the nation must innovate in order to survive.”