It started with a conversation between Mizan in Dallas and Forkan Dhaka – both bonded by sharing a room during their Buet days. They were worried that the Bangladesh health sector is too ill equipped to fight the coronavirus epidemic. There were insignificant number of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), masks and ventilators around the country. Can we do something about it?
The conversation took place a day or two before the prime minister announced the shutdown as a preventive measure to fight coronavirus. As they talked, Forkan Bin Quasem of Spectrum Engineering Consortium connected another Buet professor and president of Forum 86 (Buet 86 batch) Rafiq – who also added another friend named Rashid who is based in the USA and president of the USA Forum 86.
The four believed that as engineers, they could help produce professional quality PPE. They also believed that they could also make a cheap basic ventilator that could be used anywhere in the country.
But first, they decided to make the PPE. Rashid from the USA started raising funds for this task and sending it to their friends in Dhaka.
A day later, their friend Mushfiq of Buet batch 88 went to the office of the director general of the Health Directorate and collected a sample of a World Health Organisation (WHO) certified PPE. He gave it to Sultan, who had a garments factory and Sultan quickly made 10 samples and took it back to the DG Health.
The DG suggested that the professional PPE should be made with a different fabric. Unfortunately that kind of fabric was not available with Sultan's garments factory. "We were disheartened and taken aback," Forkan said.
"Coincidentally, there was a young guy at the DG's office that day. He saw my visiting card and instantly came up to me, saying that he had worked as an intern with Spectrum a few years back. This young man is the CEO of a new company affiliated with another very big RMG company that exports PPE – which is a rare product for Bangladesh exports," Forkan noted.
The next day they got into action. This young guy sourced them the fabric and they started making the PPE at Armour Polymer Ltd.
This PPE can be used thrice – if sanitised each time after use.
Meanwhile, the friends kept on networking on social media and their initiative was being joined by other Buetians and others from Spectrum Engineering. Their mission now was to ensure distribution of the PPE in proper places and find funding to produce more professional PPE.
Soon they were joined by the Rotary Club of Metropolitan Dhaka that put in funding for the PPE production, and the Institute of Architects.
Then they began PPE production from Armour Polymer, Square Textile and Sarah Garments.
"Amid the shutdown, our boys at the Spectrum Logistics were working very hard to manage both collection and distribution of the PPE. By now we have already distributed more than 2,200 pieces of PPE. We have another 1,400 to go," Forkan said.
This team has distributed the PPE to 60 plus hospitals across the country including Dibedar Upazila Hospital in Cumilla, Chittagong Medical College, Faridpur Medical College, Holy Family Red Crescent, the BSMMU, the NICVD, Khulna Medical College, Salimullah Medical College, Birdem, 16 SBF kidney dialysis centres and other hospitals across Bangladesh.
Locally made ventilators
The Buet team is currently designing and manufacturing a simple ventilator. But before finishing this task, they are unwilling to promise anything.
Meanwhile, global leader in medical technology – Ireland-based Medtronic – on March 30 publicly shared the design specifications for the Puritan Bennett 560 (PB 560) to enable participants across industries to evaluate options for rapid ventilator manufacturing to help doctors and patients dealing with Covid-19, according to Medtronic website.
Zunaid Ahmed Palak, the state minister for ICT Division, on March 31 said in an online press conference that the government was facilitating manufacturing of the ventilators following the Medtronic design. He said local electronic companies, including Walton, showed interest in manufacturing the ventilator.
The Military Institute of Science and Technology also declared that they were developing a ventilator and they planned to go for testing on April 4.