New low-cost ventilators designed for pandemics

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British anesthesiologists have developed three low-cost, gas-efficient ventilator prototypes that can be mass-produced for major healthcare emergencies, such as a pandemic or a natural disaster. They also can provide support in areas where resources are limited, such as rural or military settings, the doctors say.

The new ventilators expand on a concept developed during the First World War. All three designs use stored energy to begin ventilation. The devices then re-use “waste oxygen,” which enriches the ambient air being drawn into the lungs through the ventilator. The devices, which can be mass-produced at a cost of less than $325 each, consume less oxygen than typical ventilators, and can be used for an extended period of time.

There are nearly 5,700 ventilator beds in America's nursing homes, according to recent statistics from the American Health Care Association. A full description of the devices appears in the January edition of the British journal Anaesthesia.