Pets give up ventilators for humans in coronavirus crisis




Ventilators used on cats and dogs will be commandeered to help humans with coronavirus.

There are also plans to 3D-print breathing machine parts in Australia at a factory that specialises in orthotics.

Industry Minister Karen Andrews told The Daily Telegraph that Chief Scientist Alan Finkel had the idea of borrowing vets' ventilators as the government attempts to double machine numbers in intensive care units to 4000.

There are many ventilators in east coast vets and animal hospitals to provide breathing assistance following tick attacks or snake bites, said Australasian Veterinary Boards Council executive director Julie Strous.

No other country had such a resource to call on, Dr Strous said.

"We can offer this equipment now to save human lives," she said.

In the past week vets have volunteered about 100 machines. That figure may rise further.

A dalmatian using a ventilator. Source: Gold Coast Animal Emergency Service
A dalmatian using a ventilator. Source: Gold Coast Animal Emergency Service

Typically, they are second-hand human ventilators, said Australian Veterinary Association President Julia Crawford, and many only need some tubes replaced and a good clean.

"Then you wouldn't know the difference," Dr Crawford said.

Animal Emergency Australia Support Services CEO Rob Webster said he hoped ventilators such as the nine at his group wouldn't be required.

"But I'm sure the vets will be there if necessary," Dr Webster said.

Meanwhile, the government's Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) is working with Australian company iOrthotics to identify ventilator components that are in short supply globally that can be made here using 3D printing.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week said 1000 extra machines had been ordered from Sydney's ResMed. Other local manufacturers have also been asked to provide more.

But some manufacturers may not be able to get all the parts they need because of the huge global demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

iOrthotics would make the missing components.

"We are eradicating the supply chain issues," iOrthotics founder Dean Hartley said.

AMGC managing director Jens Goennemann said global companies and even the US military had made available component design files in an effort to assist local manufacturers.

Dr Goennemann praised the efforts of iOrthotics.

"They put their best foot forward and said tell us what to do and we'll get it done," he said.

Repurposing devices such as anaesthetic machines is on the cards as well, because it can be done more quickly than building from scratch.

"They may not be pretty but they'll do the job," Ms Andrews said.

ResMed, which is known for its sleep-apnoea masks, would likely be the first local manufacturer to be able to produce new ventilators, she said.

ResMed CEO Mick Farrell said it was aiming to double or triple ventilator production.

Originally published as Pets give up ventilators for humans in coronavirus crisis

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