SEATTLE, Washington — The Afghan Dreamers, a robotics team of five teenage girls in Afghanistan where the literacy rate among girls is 12%, is making history. Roya Mahboob, a technology engineer and activist for girls’ education in technology and science, founded the robotics team three years ago. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for more resources worldwide, Mahboob announced the team’s newest creation: a hand-held ventilator for COVID-19 patients that runs sustainably and affordably on car parts.
The Afghan Dreamers
Roya Mahboob is not only an engineer but a hero for women’s education in Afghanistan. She is one of the first technology CEOs in Afghanistan. She founded the Afghan Citadel Software Company, created an educational social networking site and continuously works to provide scholarships and job opportunities to new graduates, especially women.
Regarding Afghan Dreamers, Mahboob humbly told The National, “I work with the girls, but mostly to co-ordinate. They are the real heroes.” These heroes include Somaya Faruqi, Dyana Wahbzadeh, Folernace Poya, Ellaham Mansori and Nahid Rahimi as they take on COVID-19 in Afghanistan.
COVID-19 in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to its high extreme poverty rate, which has reached a rate of 54%. The girls were inspired to create change and assist the patients suffering from COVID-19, with the knowledge that it must be affordable to the public. The most commonly used ventilator, which is used very often by EMTs, first responders and ER workers, is an inflatable bag that covers the nose and mouth and is manually inflated by the healthcare worker in order to push oxygen into the lungs. The problem was a shortage of healthcare workers to manually inflate the bag. The Afghan Dreamers saw this as a challenge and got right to work to create a mechanized ventilator.
The idea came after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released a blueprint for the ventilator in March, and the girls drew inspiration. The ventilator is mechanized, meaning it can pump air into the patient’s lungs using a motor as opposed to being inflated by hand. To keep the cost low and supply high, the all-girls robotics team used the engine of a Toyota Corolla to power the ventilator and push the oxygen through. The ventilator is estimated to cost $500, a relief to the Afghan Health Ministry since the ventilators used in the ICU cost around $50,000. Currently, the Afghan Dreamers are the only all-girls team working on the plans.
Obstacles and Solutions
The team ran into a few challenges, one of which included the leader of their team contracting COVID-19. Moreover, Afghan Dreamers experienced difficulties in finding all the necessary parts and technology to put together the functioning prototype. However, the group’s insurmountable intelligence and drive pushed them through. At one point the team had to find a particular sensor that could measure the pressure of the breath taken to convert to a signal that pushes out a pump of air. Thankfully, they found what they needed and were able to continue.
Soon, the girls will take the completed prototype to the Health Ministry for presentation, and hope for approval. MIT has stated that the proposed ventilator “cannot replace an FDA-approved ICU ventilator in terms of functionality, flexibility and clinical efficacy” but it can help “life-or-death situations where there is no other option.” This means that upon approval of the prototype, the Afghan Dreamers’ ventilator can be used in the many cases in which a ventilator can save a life, but is not readily available.
The Afghan Dreamers are an inspiration to millions of girls around the world seeking education and leadership. Afghan girls face discrimination and violence and often cannot stay in school to continue their studies. The Afghan Dreamers prove that the new face of science, technology and revolution is female.