People go to hospitals putting their faith and trust in the healthcare system to restore them back to a healthy condition. But this trust is slightly misplaced when physicians and nurses are unable to help patients due to the lack of resources and expensive equipment. To combat this problem, engineering professors and students are taking matters into their own hands and coming up with economical, locally produced alternatives to imported medical equipment. Recently, a professor at Information Technology University (ITU) has developed a low-cost ambu bag ventilator system. Now a group of students at the university have taken things further and have invented a low-cost infusion pump.
An infusion pump is a device that delivers fluids, nutrients or medication into a patient’s circulatory system at a precisely controlled rate. The pump is used to deliver fluids such as insulin, antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, pain relievers and even other hormones. It is most commonly used for intravenous infusions, but subcutaneous, arterial and epidural infusions can also be used.
Infusion pumps can provide fluids at a rate or quantity that would be too expensive or too inaccurate if performed manually by doctors or provided in the form of a drip. These pumps have the capability of delivering fluids in amounts smaller even than those provided by drips; they can infuse amounts as small as 0.1 mL per hour injections. They also provide medication with volumes varying according to the time of day and administer injections at fixed intervals like every minute or every hour. They allow patients in pain to administer their own pain medication in a safe manner, with multiple boluses as requested up to a predetermined maximum number per hour.
Infusion pumps are mostly used in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), cardiology, obstetrics and gynecology, and in pain management for post-surgical patients.
“Some medicines are given based on the weight and condition of the patient. In cardiology, we have to give patients medicine to raise their blood pressure and sometimes we have to titrate them with infusion pumps. When these infusion pumps are not available, we have a big problem because we have to rely on drips and microburettes and control the rate of medication by adjusting the speed of the drops manually,” says Dr. Nooria Ashfaq, a house officer at Mayo Hospital, Lahore. “This is not a very accurate method because you are just left estimating the dosage of the patient’s medicine.”
The lack of basic healthcare equipment like infusion pumps at hospitals in Pakistan can contribute to mortality. A recent article in the Express Tribune stated that infant deaths in a hospital were caused by the lack of staff and equipment. This shortage “has been causing neonatal deaths from preventable causes.” Doctors said that “shortage of basic equipment including incubators, cardiac monitors, phototherapy, resuscitator, apnea alarm, jaundice meter, infusion pumps, pulse oximeter and oxygen checking machine had adversely affected patients.”
Currently, all the infusion pumps in Pakistan are imported from either Poland or the United States and cost ranging from PKR 90,000 to 105,000.
Eight engineering students from ITU have made a low-cost infusion pump that can change this scenario. Their infusion pump consists of a small 3D printed structure, not more than 6 inches high, with a syringe placed inside it and attached to keypad using which the dosage amount can be input. The infusion pump is also connected to a bubble detector that stops the device if any air bubbles are detected in the tubes. Both the student’s infusion pump and the imported ones work on the same principle and rotate a stepper motor slowly to move the injection but contrary to the expensive imported devices, the student’s locally produced infusion pump will cost less than PKR 15,000.
“Our infusion pump will be cost efficient. We will be able to make it locally and fix it locally as well rather than wait for months to have a product imported or repaired,” says Ahmed Bilal, one of the students who made the infusion pump.
“A locally produced infusion pump would be very useful if it is comparable to the imported ones. There would be a huge market for any equipment that can be produced locally since the costly imported ones can’t be bought by all the healthcare providers,” says Dr. Khalil Bukhari, Consultant Physician at Jinnah Hospital and Assistant Professor at Allama Iqbal Medical College.
The working prototype of the infusion pump has been made but it would have to undergo extensive testing before it is commercially produced. Out of the 8 students, Ahmed Bilal and Rana Muneeb Ashraf are currently working on the device as their final year project and are making the infusion pump more accurate and up to industry standards. They also aim to include a medical library containing correct dosages of medicines with the infusion pump in the future.
Healthcare is a major cause of morbidity and mortality, and a low quality of life in Pakistan. This seems to be a promising start and perhaps over time, we will start utilizing our local talent and resources to provide adequate healthcare to everyone.