Meet the Hero Doctor Helping Fight COVID-19 By Developing a Filipino-Made Ventilator

| Written by Padayon UP

Dr. Abundio Balgos is being honored as a Living Hero by the J. Amado Araneta Foundation.

At least one good thing that has come out of the coronavirus pandemic is the display of bravery and heroism from ordinary people. Front healthcare frontliners to supermarket staff, from military and police personnel to garbage disposal workers, the crisis proves that there is no shortage of men and women who become heroes in our eyes simply by doing their job.

One person who certainly deserves this honor is Dr. Abundio “Bunds Balgos. A pulmonoligist and retired professor at the University of Philippines College of Medicine, Dr. Balgos led a team of experts that developed ReliefVent, a locally made, low-cost, high-quality ventilator more commonly known as Ginhawa that will soon help those who are severely ill from COVID-19.

According to the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of the Department of Science, at least 50 percent of patients in intensive care unit need a ventilator.

“In many developing countries like the Philippines, there is only one ventilator per 10 ICU beds which may result to unwanted increase in mortality rates,” the DOST-PCHRD further says. “The prohibitive cost of acquiring a ventilator plus the inaccessibility of spare parts when a ventilator breaks down poses a challenge for small hospitals to acquire more units.”

Enter Dr. Balgos and his team, which includes Dr. Camilo Roa, Jr., and Biomed tech specialist Glenn Tuazon, along with members of the Philippine General Hospital Pulmonary Fellows, University of Philippines Manila Administration, and software and hardware specialists. Together the team developed Ginhawa, a ventilator that can be used for both children and adults and is projected to cost 40 percent lower than other portable ventilators in the market.

According to the J. Amado Araneta Foundation, which has honored Dr. Balgos by naming him a Living Hero in its Innovators Series, the project initially went into the backburner when the doctor became busy with academic activities and clinical practice. In 2012, Dr. Balgos and the team finally got funding to follow through with the project through PCHRD Chair Dr. Jaime Montoya. That started the slow but progressive development of Ginhawa, for which they already had initial human safety studies in 2017.

During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, ventilators have become crucial medical determinants for patients gravely affected. There is currently a shortage of ventilators for patients who need respiratory support. Ginhawa, which is currenly in the production of the final three prototypes prior to field testing of 30 ventilators in five hospitals, functions such as controlled ventilation, assist-control ventilation, and synchronous intermittent mandatory ventilation will be eased, and at a much lower cost, compared to imported ventilators.

“At the outset of the project, we already told the government authorities that we not only lack ventilators for our usual patients who go into respiratory failure,” says Dr. Balgos. “The experience with the SARS, Ebola, H1N1, and MERSCOV epidemics made us realize that we have to be more ready and self-sufficient if another outbreak happens, which is what we have now. There are only approximately 1,500 working ventilators in the whole country, and if we get hit like China, Italy, and the U.S., we need more than 1,500 more ventilators.”

Dr. Balgos currently runs The Health Centrum Hospital in Roxas City, Capiz and is actively collaborating with a group of materials engineers, studying the best methods for sterilization and safely recycling N95 and surgical masks, in the face of dwindling supplies and increasing need.

The J. Amado Araneta Foundation’s Living Heroes Innovators Series pays tribute to trailblazers, pathfinders, and prime movers in this time of COVID-19 pandemic and hopes “to share inspiring stories of heroes to Filipinos and the world.”

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(This was originally posted on the Esquire official website on April 20, 2020)