Catherine Hiles
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Afghan Girls Build Ventilator Prototype from Used Car Parts

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COVID-19 ventilators
An employee undergoes training to build Ventec ventilators at GM’s Kokomo plant
Photo: AJ Mast for General Motors

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing people to be more resourceful than usual. We have automakers like GM and Ford building ventilators and making personal protective equipment. We have professional and amateur seamstresses making masks and gowns. And in Afghanistan, a group of young girls are using their skills and available materials to try and build a ventilator.

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COVID-19 in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is battling COVID-19 much like the rest of the world, and with only a small number of ventilators to help treat those with severe symptoms. According to ABC News, the country has just 400 ventilators in its stockpile and a population of over 36.6 million. Without widespread testing, it’s hard to gauge how many Afghans have been infected, but given the virus’ ease of transmission it’s safe to assume those 400 ventilators will not be enough to help those who need them.

Five teenage girls, including 17-year-old Somaya Farooqi, are spending their days at a workshop in the city of Herat experimenting with different ventilator prototypes. These prototypes use car parts like windshields, batteries, and oxygen pumps to build the ventilator frame. The girls are getting help from local mechanics to put the parts together to create their designs. In total, the team is testing two different prototypes. Once complete, the prototypes will head to Afghanistan’s Health Ministry for testing.

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Starting young

Farooqi’s four teammates range in age from 14-17. While they have no idea whether their designs will be successful, they believe that if their prototype can save one person it will have been worth their time to make it. Farooqi has been interested in technology for a while and competed in the World Robot Olympiad when she was just 14.

The team is supported by Roya Mahboob, a tech entrepreneur who supports empowering girls in Afghanistan. The team hopes to have a completed prototype by June at the latest.