Coronavirus is still spreading at an alarming rate. There are over 9 million confirmed cases and about 470,000 deaths. According to the World Health Organization, a combination of social distancing and frequent washing of hands with soap and water can stop the spread. However, for health workers, social distancing is almost impossible. An invention by an Egyptian engineer, Mahmoud El Komy, can be the game-changer.
Mahmoud El Komy, a young mechatronics engineer, has built a robot that can test patients suspected to have COVID-19. The robot is fully equipped with a temperature sensor. If adopted, this will help health workers to test patients from a distance. Consequently, this will lower direct contact between health workers and suspect patients and help curb the spread among the latter. Speaking to Sky News, El Komy said,
“The robot has customized tasks for dealing with coronavirus. It has a mission, including detecting suspected COVID cases, whether in public places, malls, banks, or airports. He can measure a person’s temperature and if he detects that a person has a fever, he sounds an alarm.”
Why health workers are at greater risk in Africa
Health workers all over the world are at a greater risk of contracting the virus. However, the problem is more jarring in Africa owing to the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). All African countries import the majority of PPE needed to keep health workers safe. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been a severe shortage of supply. In some countries, health workers either reuse their gears or improvise.
As it stands, Africa relies on western technologies for survival. However, the commercialization of Mahmoud El Komy’s invention will be a starting point towards turning around this trend. If robots conduct tests, there will be a lower demand for PPE. Also, more health workers won’t have to come directly in contact with suspected patients.
The robot took El Komy more than a month to design. In addition to temperature sensors, the prototype had facial recognition tools. However, the updated version by the Egyptian engineer is capable of collecting swab samples from the mouth of patients. The robot can also playback recorded medical advice.
Consequently, the robot can be used in more places than just hospitals. For example, it can be deployed to airports, banks, and malls to test the temperature of visitors. Also, the audio playback will help to make the people consciously enforce preventive regulations. Mahmoud El Komy is working on a third draft with further improvements. The next model will be able to take nasal swab as well as better simulate the hand movement of a physician.
Prior to Mahmoud El Komy’s robot
Earlier, Rwanda deployed three robots to carry out simple tests at the Kanyinya COVID-19 treatment facility. The robots, Ngabo, Ikizere, Akazuba can take temperatures and monitor patients. The big white robots have big blue eyes and a human-like appearance. Talking about the robots and their prospects, David Turatsinze, a doctor at the 75-bed treatment facility said,
“The three robots that we have are part of the treating team. In the future, if they are programmed to take even blood pressure and the (blood) sugar, that definitely would be so helpful.”
The three robots are donations from the United Nations Development Programme. Mahmoud El Komy’s is a great leap from this model. However, the goal of all these robots is not to take health workers out of the equation. Bio-medical engineer at the ministry of health, Francine Umutesi explains it best,
“It doesn’t remove the tasks the doctors are supposed to do, it’s just complementing their efforts.”