Swiss researchers develop low-cost coronavirus ventilator ‘while working from home’

Despite communicating via video chat while working from home, Swiss researchers have developed a compact and cost-effective ventilator to assist patients battling the coronavirus.

Swiss researchers develop low-cost coronavirus ventilator 'while working from home'
A prototype of the new ventilator. Photo: Nicola Pitaro/ETH Zurich
Researchers in Switzerland have developed a ’simple, compact, modular and cost-effective’ ventilator which can be used to assist patients suffering from the coronavirus. 

Led by professor Kristina Shea at ETH Zurich, the ventilator will be made available for countries with lower medical budgets. 

READ: International interest grows in Switzerland's 'game-changing' coronavirus antibody test

The ventilator, named ‘Breathe’, has been developed by the team despite several of them being forced to work from home due to coronavirus restrictions. 

“It is not easy if the team can’t meet in person and has to do all the work from home,” Shea said in a statement. 

“As an engineer, I am used to taking things in hand and getting a haptic impression.”

Shea was initially scheduled to complete a sabbatical in March, however was called into action when it became clear inexpensive ventilators were in high demand due to the spread of the pandemic. 

The ventilators cost less than CHF5,000 ($US5,100). Normally costing around CHF20,000 ($US20,500), the price of new ventilators has risen as high as CHF50,000 ($US51,440) since the outbreak of the virus. 

With the second prototype completed a week ago and awaiting technical inspection, the researchers hope to have the device ready in the coming weeks. 

Shortages of ventilators have been a major problem in countries across the globe since the outbreak of the virus. 

The device is easy to control with only a few buttons and a simple digital display.

The device came from an open source design originally developed by researchers at the United States’ MIT university. 

In a statement, the researchers explained the device's functionality: 

“The heart of the new ventilator is a resuscitator bag, called Ambubag, which is common in emergency medicine. This is clamped in an engine block. The motor drives two paddles attached to the side of the bag, which compress it in a predetermined rhythm and thus pump air.”



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Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad