As schools countrywide were being closed indefinitely following the outbreak of the coronavirus, Daniel Kabugu together with his fellow students at the Kenyatta University (KU) were devising ways to help Covid-19 patients.
With lectures suspended, they formed an online group where Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) members could pitch prototypes.
“We settled on a ventilator concept,” says Mr Kabugi, 24.
The ventilator, which is referred to as Vent Tiba, is made up of a cubical unit connected to an oxygen tank with two pipes that delivers inhaled and exhaled air.
It is divided into four sections - input (oxygen), processing (components mixing) output (doctor’s set parameters) and watchdog (sensors).
“It is a pressure-based mechanical ventilator that supports patients with difficulties in breathing to achieve the necessary gas exchanges in their system in order to sustain life,” Mr Kabugi, 24, says.
For assistance and guidance, they reached out to the school’s dean of engineering Maina Mambo, who briefed the university’s vice chancellor on the same.
Upon hearing the proposal, VC Paul Wainaina formed a support committee led by Dr Nicholas Gikonyo to spearhead the implementation of the whole project.
Three other students drawn from schools of pharmacy, medicine and nursing were included in the programme.
“Thereafter, we were allocated space at the Chandaria Innovation and Incubation Centre for assembly purposes,” says the fourth year student studying Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering.
He adds that he pursued the course as he was always good in numbers and had photographic memory.
“The discipline allows me to stretch my strengths in critical thinking and analytical skills to solve problems in medicine using engineering principles and technology,” says the student who benefitted from the Equity Group Foundation scholarship.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), mentorships as well as accommodations were offered by the university.
Other team members include Daniel Kabugi, Allan Koech, Christine Were, Derick Ngigi, Nahashon Kuria, Lewis Kamindu, Stella Chelagat and Steve Ogeto. Others are Cynthia Thuo, Jeff Ayako, Eric Odhiambo, Barbara Owino, Fredrick Otieno, Bernard Karanja and Fidel Makatia.
“Most of us have worked together on other projects before and we were pretty sure that working as a team we could offer a solution to save humanity especially during this hard times of Covid-19 pandemic,” he adds.
From the prototype they invented, they are now working on other three improved versions.
How many ventilators they intend to produce? Mr Kabugi says the decision will be informed by the university since it involves funds and other issues such as mass production.
Nonetheless, he says they have done the hardest part which is prototyping and testing.
“After authorisation by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) and the Kenya Bureau of Statistics (Kebs), the university will go ahead and advise on the production model,” he says.
The flexibility of the products, he notes, allows it to be used in different circumstances even after the post-Covid-19 era.
“We have designed it to meet most if not all ventilation needs in healthcare. Meaning even after covid19 we can still use it in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and et cetra,” he says.
Other features of the ventilator include air purification system, portability, low power consumption and easy control features.
“Exhaled air from patient is first treated before aerosolisation to prevent people in that environment from being infected,” he adds.
He says the number of ventilators they can be able to produce will depend on the mass production models implemented by the university.
He says the cost of ventilators will be hinged on components, tools, labour.
One of the challenges they face is mass production of equipment and sceptism among Kenyans on their capacity to deliver.
Apart from this, Mr Kabugi is a volunteer at the Kenya Red Cross as the Kajiado youth chair.
As a hobby, he likes to play piano and guitar.
However, Mr Kabugi story to the top was not a walk in the park as he like thousands of Kenyans faced numerous challenges while growing up in Dagoretti, Nairobi.
“I am a 2nd born in a family of seven-two sisters, two brothers and two parents. For upkeep, my parents did menial jobs to support us,” he says.
Due to financial constraints, Kibugi never stepped into a nursery school as he directly transitioned into standard one.
Were it not for the introduction of the free education program by the then President Mwai Kibaki in 2003, he reckons he could not have enrolled into the Riruta Primary School in Nairobi.
“Similarly, after I cleared my primary school in 2012, I could not proceed to secondary school due to lack of school fees this is despite being a top performer in my region,” he says.
However, Equity Group Foundation came to his rescue when it awarded him a full scholarship to attend a post-primary education at the Upper Hill School Nairobi. He would later score an A (plain) in the 2014 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE).
Moreover, he links his success to his parents no-nonsense upbringing.
“They would always remind us that at home we have nothing and education was our only hope in life,” he adds.