Senegalese students fight COVID-19 with new inventions

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ENGINEERING students in Senegal are throwing themselves at the country’s growing coronavirus problem with inventions such as automatic sanitiser dispensers and medical robots.

Youngsters from a top engineering school in the capital Dakar have turned their technical skills toward easing pressure on the wards — and they are already in talks with hospitals over some of their innovations.

One example is a small robot, dubbed ‘Dr. Car’, which will be able to measure patients’ blood pressure and temperature, according to students from Dakar’s Ecole Superieure Polytechnique (ESP).

The university is considered one of West Africa’s best for engineering and technology, and is highly selective, with 28 nationalities represented among its 4,000 students.

One of the students who conceived the robot, Lamine Mouhamed Kebe, said the machine would reduce the exposure of doctors and nurses to infected patients and use of expensive protective gear.

“At a certain point … we realised that medical equipment was limited,” the 23-year-old added. “We can do something,” he said.

Guided by a mounted camera and controlled via an app, doctors will also be able to communicate with patients through the robot, Kebe said, potentially allowing them to treat people isolated in hard-to-reach rural areas.

Senegal’s coronavirus outbreak pales in comparison to the situation in virus-stricken Europe and the United States.

But after a slow start, confirmed cases in the nation of some 16 million people are increasing.

And as with other poor countries in the region, there are fears that Senegal is ill equipped to handle a large outbreak.

Authorities have recorded more than 1,700 cases to date, including 19 fatalities. Hospital staff in Dakar is also beginning to contract COVID-19.

Faced with an increased threat, frontline Senegalese doctors are taking the young engineers seriously.

An initial prototype designed by the students was essentially a small mobile trolley, designed to carry equipment or meals to patients.

But Abdoulaye Bousso, the head of an emergency ward in a Dakar hospital, asked to redesign it to include mechanical arms capable of conducting medical tests — an upgrade the students are working on now.

Bousso added that the robot could cut down on their use of expensive bibs and gowns, which must be thrown away.

Similarly, an ESP professor in charge of marketing the inventions, Ndiaga Ndiaye said that the university has long emphasised practical projects and entrepreneurship.

According to him, this places the students on an inventive pedestal when the virus broke out.

“The robot is far from being a gadget. It could be produced at a larger scale once ready. We are a public institution. There is one concept that binds us all together, and that is service to the community,” he said.

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