“Necessity is inventive,” he says: Cuban scientists are building their own fans in a corona pandemic because US sanctions are preventing the import of foreign equipment.
Anne Demmer, ARD Studio Mexico City
Cuba boasts an exemplary health system, doctors that sends it all over the world. The country reacted quickly to the pandemic and issued a strict deadline.
The number of cases has remained low and the country is reopening cautiously, even for tourism. Upon entry, visitors must complete an affidavit stating their medical condition and undergo a PCR test.
The country also wants to be prepared for the second wave of infections. In these efforts, the socialist Caribbean island stands in the way of a US blockade, but it encourages creativity in the development of medical devices.
No lack of know-how
For months, Cuban medical students walked door to door looking for high-risk patients and those infected. The socialist Caribbean island lacks know-how; but at the beginning of the pandemic there were concerns that medical equipment was insufficient.
A team was quickly set up to ensure that the emergency fan worked. This included Ernest Velard Reyes of the Havana Neuroscience Center.
First he and his colleagues repaired the old fans. However, important components of the repair, which can only be obtained abroad, were missing – a major obstacle for Cuba, Velarde Reyes explains:
“The US sanction caused us great damage, especially during the corona crisis here in Cuba. The manufacturer of our fans was taken over by an American company. And since then they have not supplied any spare parts for the fans.”
As an open source source from MIT
The team therefore faced the challenge of developing their own equipment. Talent for improvisation was again in demand in a country of scarcity.
The developers received expert guidance from all over the US: they found information on mechanical development on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website. The basis was open source code that MIT researchers made available to the public.
The developers have worked with a number of institutions on the socialist Caribbean island, including the Military Industry Association, explains neuroscience Velarde Reyes: “There was, of course, a great challenge to develop a fan here. We needed a powerful engine. “
Fundraising through WhatsApp
Then they searched for an engine on social networks like WhatsApp – and they did find what they were looking for: “It cost $ 200, which is a lot of money for Cubans. An entrepreneur I didn’t even know personally, we even made it accessible just like that. We have done everything we can to ensure that every Cuban gets a fan when needed. “
Eventually, however, components such as screens and processors had to be imported. Neurologists were supported by the NGO Medicuba-Suisse from Switzerland.
Velarde Reyes’ research colleague Manuel Vanegas Ayala explains that even this had to circumvent US sanctions: “It is very difficult for us to secure a financial transfer. For every money transfer we make, we must always find a maze so that Cuba can also get the money directly. “
With the help of a Swiss NGO, it was possible to develop a cheap emergency fan that has many of the functions of an expensive device. A conventional fan is expensive, costing between 10,000 and 30,000 euros.
It is difficult to imitate
In the end, however, the Cuban model of development is only transferable to a limited extent, Vanegas Ayala explains: “We must not forget: it is so easy for Cuba because it has a long tradition of research.”
It is not easy for other countries to implement something like this: “Countries from Central America and the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic or Haiti – I do not understand that these countries have the prerequisites for infrastructure, technical know-how, something like this at a high level. “
Initially, the devices were tested on animals, now on humans. The ventilator should go into series production at the end of October to prepare Cuba for the next wave of infections.