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South African astronomers to lead national ventilator project

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Drive aims to produce 10,000 ventilators by end of June to treat Covid-19

The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory has been put in charge of efforts to ensure the country has enough respiratory ventilators to weather the Covid-19 pandemic.

A 4 April statement from SARAO said that it has been mandated by the Department of Trade and Industry to “manage the national effort required for local design, development, production, and procurement” of ventilators.

Health experts have warned that the country’s shortage of ventilators and intensive care units is a critical problem, and that the health system could quickly become overwhelmed should the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 continue its spread. 

The National Ventilator Project aims to produce a minimum of 1,500 ventilators by the end of May, rising to 10,000 by the end of June. 

Senior researchers involved in the Square Kilometre Array, the radio telescope being built in South Africa and Australia, will lead the ventilator project. Willem Esterhuyse, the head of engineering at SARAO, is the project manager and Pontsho Maruping, SARAO’s head of commercialisation, is the link to industry.

SARAO said it has been given the nod due to its hi-tech know-how gained from projects like the SKA and MeerKAT, a powerful South African radio telescope and SKA precursor.

A rapid call for proposals for companies and experts who want to be involved in the project has already closed. Presentations of proposals took place on 8 April.