Universities now rise to coronavirus challenge

Masinde Muliro University's chief technician Manoah Opanga (left) and Douglas Ndayala at the institution's production room where they have started manufacturing sanitizers, detergents, and hand-washing soaps. PHOTO/COURTESY

A ventilator, a coronavirus mass testing device and protective gear are among the developments by universities to support efforts to defeat the pandemic.

The institutions have engaged their top researchers and students to render critical skills in the fight against the deadly virus. A number of universities have also reported progress in designing new ventilators – critical devices needed in hospitals to manage the disease. Kenyatta University was the first to announce a breakthrough in developing of a ventilator prototype.

The prototype, dubbed Tiba Ven, was developed by 16 students from various faculties in about one week. Kenyatta University Vice-Chancellor Paul Wainaina said the institution has the capacity to produce 50 ventilators a week.

At the University of Nairobi, the Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases announced it had configured its state of the art COBAS 6800 equipment to facilitate coronavirus mass testing.

Vice-Chancellor Stephen Kiama said the equipment has a capacity to test about 3,000 samples in a day. “The equipment has been used to test for other viruses but it has now been aligned to fast track mass testing,” said Prof Kiama.

He said the University of Nairobi engineering department is also studying various prototypes for ventilators. Kiama said the university has engaged top legal minds in its law faculty to come up with a Covid-19 Response and Management Bill.

“The bill covers all aspects of a pandemic from transport, waste management, job security, and many other aspects that will guide the country during future outbreaks,” said the VC.

At the Technical University of Mombasa (TUM), Vice Chancellor Laila Abubakar said top faculty members are working with students to come up with practical solutions to curb the spread of the virus and to save lives. The VC said a team of 13 students from the medical and engineering departments are working on a ventilator.

“The ventilator is made with locally available material. This will go a long way in saving lives,” said Prof Abubakar. Speaking yesterday, Abubakar said the university has also developed an aerosol sprinkling sanitizer and partnered with the county for mass production.

“We are now doing mass production of aerosol sprinkling sanitisers, which are used in public places across the county,” she said. The university has set aside a 150-bed quarantine facility in partnership with the County Government of Mombasa. The facility will have standby doctors and nurses.

“The facility will also have sanitizing areas, a cafeteria, laundry services, 24-hour electricity, and good ventilation that will be facing the sea at Nyali Bridge,” said the VC.

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology Vice-Chancellor Stephen Agong said the institution is already producing about 480 litres of affordable sanitisers and soap daily.

“We have also embarked on research towards mitigating Covid-19 and are executing online-learning support for students,” said Prof Agong. Murang’a University of Technology, through its subsidiary, Murang’a University of Technology Enterprise Services (Mutes) has started manufacturing masks in its textile unit.

Vice-Chancellor Dickson Nyariki said in the first phase Mutes is rolling out 10,000 pieces of re-usable face masks for both adults and children. “The masks have been made to international standards,” said Prof Nyariki.

He said another 5,000 pieces of disposable surgical masks for medics are also being rolled out. “We are doing some 100 pieces re-usable medical gowns for use by medics who get into direct contact with Covid-19 patients,” said Nyariki. He said the university’s textile unit has engaged 20 tailors from the surrounding community to manufacture the items.

At Mount Kenya University, acting Vice-Chancellor Peter Wanderi said the institution has been manufacturing hand sanitisers and distributing the same to the university community. He said the university has also developed automatic hand-washing kits.

“Some have been donated to the government for use in isolation centres and police stations,” said Prof Wanderi. The university has further designed and constructed a solar-operated drier to preserve food that can sustain families for weeks in a coronavirus lockdown.

Thermal dehydrator

The low-tech thermal dehydrator can be used to process fruits and vegetables. “This reduces wastage and makes transportation easy while promoting health and welfare of the people especially now when food systems are strained and body immunity is under test,” said Peter Mithano, a technologist at MKU.

At the Technical University of Kenya (TUK), Vice-chancellor Francis Aduol said a team of engineers is working on a prototype for a ventilator. The university is at the same time manufacturing masks, washing stations, and is working on a technology that will ease monitoring and tracking of coronavirus contact persons.

“We started by manufacturing sanitisers right from the first time a coronavirus case was registered. We shall communicate other efforts in due course,” said Prof Aduol.

At Kisii University, the institution’s tailoring department is rolling out mass production of masks. The university is producing 300 cloth masks and 200 surgical ones daily. Jacqueline Nyaanga, the university’s head of medical department, said the institution is targeting 200,000 pieces in the first phase of the project.

The university is targeting boda boda operators in Kisii, Homa Bay and Nyamira counties. “We want to fill the gap and ensure that our people are safe. This is an initiative that we began after we critically examined the needs of our people. We are also supporting the government to curb further spread of Covid-19,” said Dr Nyaanga.

Kisii National Polytechnic has produced 10,000 masks that will be distributed in Kisii and Nyamira counties on Tuesday.

“Currently we are doing cloth masks for middle-income earners. This is part of our corporate social responsibility,” said Daniel Nyariki, the polytechnic’s principal. Kisii, Nyamira and Homa Bay have one of the largest concentration of boda boda operators.