Noble Initiatives : NIT Rourkela's Efforts To Battle Covid

Noble Initiatives : NIT Rourkela's Efforts To Battle Covid

When you have an emergency, there is the urge to do whatever it takes to see people get assistance.                  - Meles Zenawi.

Amidst the Covid-19 crisis, NIT Rourkela played a crucial role in controlling the wrath of the virus by taking matters into its able hands. It helped people in every way possible by arranging for oxygen beds, doctors, and staff or converting the hostels to Covid Care Centres. For instance- it converted Satish Dhawan Hall of Residence (SD) into a fully operating Covid Care Centre, administered jointly by the District Administrator(DM) of Sundergarh and the Rourkela Municipal Corporation. The Covid Care centre is fully operational with 850 beds(including few oxygen beds), 18 doctors, and about 50 paramedics as a pharmacist, staff nurse, and ANM (Auxiliary nurse midwife). There is even a separate gate near the back post for the patients to move conveniently. 

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(Image source – NIT Rourkela FB Page)

In fact, during the early days of the pandemic, NIT Rourkela had produced a novel breakthrough in the production of alcohol-based sanitisers. Professor Dr Rupam Dinda, Head of the Department of Chemistry, and his team, including research scholar Atanu Banerjee, staff members, and several laboratory assistants, came forward to mainstream the idea that led to cordial production and supply of hand sanitisers. This led to the production of about 30 litres of sanitiser in the first phase itself. The sanitisers were initially intended to be offered to Hi-Tech Medical College & Hospital, Rourkela, a newly established COVID hospital. But due to its effectiveness, it was also distributed to the Rotary Club of Rourkela for Old Age and Orphanage Homes and to the employees of the institute who were involved in providing essential services to the students and the staff of the campus.

Since Covid testing has become essential nowadays and is vital to bring things back to normal, Rourkela Municipal Corporation organised the 7th Covid antigen testing camp at NIT Rourkela. The NIT Rourkela community and all the Covid warriors were instrumental in carrying out this activity smoothly and safely. There was also a three-day vaccination drive at NIT Rourkela for people above the age of 45. Thanks to the Rourkela Municipal Corporation and the Covid warriors of NIT Rourkela, this event was also successful.

‘Oxyserve’- An innovative solution to tackle the oxygen crisis

Oxygen- who knew this would become a precious commodity during the ongoing pandemic. The oxygen crisis at the peak of the second wave of COVID-19 is still fresh in the country's collective memory. In its wake, Rupesh Mahore, a fourth-year undergrad of Integrated MSc. Physics from NIT Rourkela developed a device, ‘Oxyserve,’ which can save about 60-70 per cent of medical oxygen. This device appears extremely useful in the wake of the recent Oxygen crisis that has racked the country.

Rupesh observed that while using a continuous flow of oxygen, more than half of the gas is wasted between the time it leaves the cylinder and is inhaled. To tackle this problem of wastage, Rupesh started his research along with his younger brother Gundendra Mahore around six months prior.

Insights into making of the device:

Team Monday Morning caught up with Rupesh Mahore for an interview to know more about the device ‘Oxyserve’ and the efforts behind ideating the device.

MM: Can you share the efforts that went behind ideating the device,” Oxyserve,” and what role it will play in tackling the Oxygen demand crisis of the country?

Rupesh Mahore (RM): Basically, ‘Oxyserve’ was some spin-off; sometimes you are working on a different technology, and you come up with something else. Last year we were working on a project related to ‘Human Space Flight Research,’ which optimised the consumption of oxygen by astronauts when they go for a spacewalk. It was just like very rudimental research, and there was an idea from here when there was an oxygen crisis in India around early February. We thought of applying this for covid.

We thought of designing an oxygen conservation device that could only conserve oxygen. After developing it for a few months, we came up with a more developed device with feature functionalities and other applications apart from just being an oxygen conservation device.

The function of this device is to conserve oxygen by a factor of 0.7; it saves around 60-70 per cent of the oxygen that goes to waste in continuous oxygen flow devices. When the country was suffering from an oxygen crisis, there was a shortage of oxygen and a huge price associated with the same. We did a small survey and found that an average person suffering from Covid and other pneumatic disorders has to spend 10000-25000 per day for medical oxygen. We can reduce the cost by more than 50 per cent if we can conserve oxygen by applying the device. Still, there are many remote places where people cannot access oxygen which we saw during the pandemic’s peak. So, this device will not necessarily solve this problem but will decrease the stress on the healthcare system and the entire infrastructure related to the oxygen resources.

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MM: Since ‘Oxyserve’ is a Biomedical device, apart from running tests via simulations in software, it also has to undergo many clinical trials to test the device and its efficiency. What challenges did you face in either case?

RM: The first challenge was making a design in such a way that it would fit medical-grade parameters. We had sent our initial design to a few doctors and pulmonologists, and we consulted around 12-15 doctors in 3-4 months.

We had sent them an initial design and told them how fluctuation would be there with oxygen, and this is how we would monitor the patient's parameters. These are the parameters and algorithms that we would be considering.

We got around 40-50 feedback from the doctors and pulmonologists from AIIMS Bhubaneswar, some from our local hospitals, JIPMER, and many medical experts who gave their opinions on making this a medical-grade device.

Then we did some Beta testing with our instruments, not in a medical lab but with our simulation software, which could give a real-time parameter of how the SpO2 varies with FiO2 and the oxygen flux. We did a simulation test on that and did a sort of Beta testing with the pressure and flux. Right now, we are trying to do the clinical trials and do the calibration. We have got support from DST (Department of Science and Technology), and they have taken up our project. Now we would be working with a program called 'Nidhi Prayas'. Through the 'Nidhi Prayas' initiative, we would be developing this prototype into a medical-grade device and would be doing the clinical trials for the Beta testing.

MM: What, according to you, is essential in commercialising such a device? How do you see your product in the coming years post COVID?

RM: Talking about commercialising any device or, as in this case, a medical device that we can sell, usually there are three stages of development. The first stage is when we have abstract thought, then there is a structured idea, and then there is a viable product or a service. So by joining all these stages and several skills and people’s feedback, we arrive at a possible outcome.

Before converting this device into a medical product, we need to run many calibrations and characterisation tests for the broader demography of patients. We then move toward a beta testing stage, and after beta testing, we move towards simulated clinical trials(not on real subjects). If we pass that stage, we move towards clinical trials on the patients as we now know that the device is safe to use.

In due process, we do require many technical and financial resources. The speed of this process, i.e., connecting the three stages mentioned above, heavily depends upon what kind of resources we get from the government or the government agencies and the people working in this industry, and this is how the product gets commercialised. Talking particularly about ‘Oxyserve,’ we are working parallelly with the patenting and the IPR thing, and apart from that, we are working on developing the device. We are trying to take our device to at least the advanced calibration stage so that after that, some company or some medical device experts could take up this project. So we would either do the transfer of technology or move ahead with this project within a few months.

Although the COVID cases in India are not staggeringly high, there is still a need for oxygen in many areas. In fact, besides COVID, other chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases require medical oxygen. And the patients suffering from these diseases could be helped by Oxyserve. Apart from India, we recently got in touch with the Indonesian embassy and some other countries like Vietnam, where there is an acute oxygen crisis at this point. So we are planning to develop this device and transfer technology to suit their government or industry who could help us reach those people. This is how we plan to scale it, at least in this current crisis, to the other parts of the world. This device will still help patients in need of oxygen therapy even after COVID. We conversed with a few doctors and clinical experts from Apollo Hospital. They told us that apart from COVID, there are also many pneumonic diseases like Asthma, including respiratory disorders. In advanced cases of Asthma, you need to keep the patient on Oxygen therapy, and there are times when oxygen is not sufficient in the hospital, so in those cases, this device will be beneficial.

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MM: Can you share with us your experience at the CERN entrepreneurship program CESP-2021?

RM: CERN, the European Council for Nuclear Research is a research organisation that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. CERN has an entrepreneurship student program that it hosts every year to nurture innovative ideas across the world.

There are about 20000 to 30000 entries a year, and only the top 5 ideas get selected. This year we made it to the top five.

So what CERN does is that it provides technical support, and through CESP (CERN Entrepreneurship Student Program), we get guidance and technical support, and we also get in touch with the investors. We get support relating to seed funding, developing the innovation to a scalable market product, or an MVP (Minimum viable product). This one-month program gets hosted every year. But unlike every year, this year, it is going to be hosted virtually. We will participate in that program and try to learn from them how to scale up our device to do an MVP (Minimum viable product) or at least a commercial device.”

I believe that innovations that originate out of empathy are not the ones that are the most aesthetic, but they solve much more meaningful and deeper problems existing in society.

‘BreathIn’: Helping people breathe out of covid

The second wave of the covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the nation. A significant part of the population was infected and what came with that was the shortage of oxygen supply and hospital beds. Many saw their dear ones suffer, and most of them lost them due to the lack of proper resources.

To assist the infected patients and reduce the burden on their dear ones, An 18 member team from the Bless N Bliss club led by Konni Vidya Sagar came together and built a mobile application to help them connect and access verified Covid-19 resources. The group gathered information regarding all the Covid-19 resources and updated them on their app after proper verification. The app was ready by April 20 and had verified information for supply and refilling of oxygen, availability of hospital beds, plasma donors, and doctors for online consultation.

The Education Ministry of India recognised their work and lauded them for their efforts.

Along with this, Bless and Bliss, in collaboration with NIFFT (National Institute of Foundry & Forge Technology ), came forward to provide essential items in Ranchi. They organised a Ration distribution drive and distributed 110 packets of groceries in Nirmala Kusht Colony, Education Center(EC-1) of Ranchi.

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Insights into developing the application:

Team Monday Morning caught up with Breathin's lead for an interview to understand what went on behind the scenes.

MM: What was your vision behind building Breathin? How did you manage to bring together a team of 18 members for the app?

Mr Konni Vidya Sagar (KVS): In the second week of April, we started observing the shortage of oxygen, something we've never heard before, so all the club members began searching for ways to contribute, and Breathin was one among those ideas. Through Breathin, our only goal was to filter out the fake information and provide verified resources.

Forming an 18 member team was no big deal as Bless N Bliss has many active members ready for social service.

MM: What are the difficulties you endured to develop the app and ensure that it functions seamlessly across all platforms?

KVS: Initially, we received a lot of fake information. About 10 out of 100 contacts were working, and less than 10 had resources, so we had to spend close to a week creating the list of verified contacts.

Later on, taking it to the public was a bit challenging, but with the help of Instagram pages that actively shared our links, we reached a wider audience.

MM: What was your standard operating procedure for collecting data and further verify its credibility at your end?

KVS: We collected information from the various crowdsourced sites, Instagram pages, and WhatsApp statuses. We took contacts from all sources and shared them in our team group, who put all the data in excel. 4 members worked on collecting data, 8-10 members made calls and verified the data. Finally, the filtered data ended up in the app. The best part was that the alumni of our club contributed actively, and SAC president Seemita Mohanty ma'am, Upendra Gundala sir, U. K. Mishra sir helped us throughout the process.

MM: What are your views on the contribution of the app during the covid second wave? What features are you planning to add for the future, if required?

KVS: We did what was possible and made it reach the public. That was our side of the effort, and we just hoped it would benefit the needy. It was worth our effort, and as we expected, we got a good number of positive reviews.

We haven't planned any new features for the app yet. However, we are currently working on helping the children of orphanages by having online classes, providing them with groceries, clothes, sanitary pads, etc. We hope that we will be free from COVID.

MM: How does it feel to be recognised and appreciated by the education ministry of India for your work?

KVS: Breathin is just one among various projects Bless N Bliss is doing. Like any other project, we put in our effort and hoped that it would be fruitful. Honestly, we never expected we would be appreciated for our work; the day we got the news that the ministry of education shared our work, we were delighted and shocked. It boosted our clubs' confidence and motivation.

Team Monday Morning appreciates the entire administration and student community of NIT Rourkela for coming forward to lend a helping hand in dampening the global crisis.

Designs by – Tejaswini Sahu

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