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Auto-rickshaw COVID testing units coming soon in Mumbai

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Anant National University has designed a compact, effective and contact-free mobile COVID-19 testing and oxygen facility in the most innovative manner – the auto-rickshaw. These will soon be introduced in Mumbai with the help of the BMC

As India’s COVID-19 tally continues to soar, government bodies, scientific communities and innovators are bending over backwards to come up with solutions that can be fruitful to tackle the problem of access and affordability. Given in the present situation in some states like Maharashtra, special measures have been taken to combat the pandemic.

It is currently paramount to save Mumbai, which is the worst-hit city in the country, inform officials from the city’s biggest municipal corporation- the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). According to them, all efforts have been directed to contain the spread and ensure the availability of healthcare services to those who are afflicted by the virus.

Scientific experts and innovators feel that the important function in this entire effort is to ensure accessibility and affordability of tests and treatment facilities as well as rendering support to healthcare providers. In keeping with this need, Anant National University has designed a compact, effective and contact-free mobile COVID-19 testing and oxygen facility in the most innovative manner – the auto-rickshaw.

According to the innovators, these mobile units can manoeuver in narrow lanes, as well. There are two variations: one is the facility for swab collections priced at Rs 5.1 lakh; while the second is a facility for X-ray testing for COVID-19 and is priced at Rs 11.5 lakh, making these the most affordable facilities of their type in the world and therefore suitable to operate on a mass scale in India. These can both be operated by any government or non-government body that is approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to conduct testing activities in their area. The facility only needs a driver and a health worker trained to handle the X-ray machine and oxygen supply.

These units can conduct over 500 X-ray tests in a day. Moderate cases of COVID-19 patients awaiting an ambulance or a hospital bed can benefit from the emergency oxygen supply of the oxygen cylinders installed in the vehicle which can be dropped off at the residence of the patient. Both versions of the auto-rickshaw also come equipped with a stretcher that can be used to transport patients to the hospital. To run the equipment 24×7, a diesel generator is fitted on top of the vehicle.

These auto-rickshaws will be soon introduced in Mumbai with the help of the BMC.

The concept is a brainchild of Dr Anunaya Chaubey, Provost, Anant National University, who led this project; Dr Miniya Chatterji, Director, Anant Centre for Sustainability and CEO Sustain Labs; Dhaval Monani, Director of Affordable Housing and Associate Professor, Anant National University, who designed the auto-rickshaw and Joel Fernando, Visual Designer and Multimedia Associate at Anant National University, who assisted in the development of the prototype.

In a chat with Express healthcare, Dr Chatterji gives more details about Anant COVID-19 testing and oxygen auto-rickshaws.

Affordable mobile testing was the rationale

“I recognised there is a real challenge in making testing accessible and affordable. To solve this, I thought of the idea of making affordable mobile testing facilities. I spoke to my team about it, and after a few discussions, Professor Dhaval Monani came up with the idea of using the auto-rickshaw. This way we slash down the price of the vehicle itself, which usually is a big chunk of the costs in mobile testing and collections, as well as ambulances. We are in constant discussions with government officials to cater to what is the most needed, and government representatives suggested that we include the facility to collect swab-based biospecimen samples as well. While making the testing auto-rickshaws, the lockdown restrictions eased and cases started soaring, and my sense was that all we really need is to increase the supply for oxygen beds in the hotspots. Hospitals are already full and patients who need emergency oxygen aren’t always able to get this. These mobile oxygen auto-rickshaws go door to door and provide emergency oxygen to patients. Above that, per bed cost is the lowest in the world when compared with any other similar mobile oxygen facility. The mobile oxygen response auto-rickshaw needs to be scaled up as it will be incredibly useful to give oxygen to those who can not access or can not afford oxygen in the hospital,” Dr Chatterji confidently informs.

While the concept of converting an auto-rickshaw into a mobile testing unit seems compelling, what’s more fascinating is the entire reconstruction process.

From a cargo auto-rickshaw into a COVID-19 testing and oxygen unit

So, the innovators inform that for an X-ray, COVID-19 testing and swab-based collections auto-rickshaw, a BS6 cargo auto-rickshaw is completely overhauled to fit in three isolated compartments for a driver, health worker and patient. The exterior is made of tarpaulin to insulate the interiors while cutting costs. A generator is fitted at the top of the driver’s compartment to power up all the medical equipment inside.

The oxygen response auto rickshaw is also a BS6 cargo auto-rickshaw and is split into two compartments, and three separate entrances – one each for the driver, health worker, and patient in a stretcher. The larger compartment has a stretcher, oxygen cylinder and a bench for the health worker.

The swab-based collections and oxygen auto rickshaw: it has three isolated compartments as well – one each for a driver, swab collections compartment where two health workers collect samples in a contact-free way, and a patient compartment where a patient takes oxygen in a reclining chair aided by a health worker.

All the three variations of the auto-rickshaw have four powerful nozzles that automatically spray alcohol-based sanitisers each time a person exits the patient compartment.

“We are making sure that all workers involved in the transformation process are maintaining appropriate distance and wearing protective gear,” Dr Chatterji adds.

Now, the entire process of repurposing these cargo auto-rickshaws isn’t a cakewalk. “The process requires five different vendors to supply different materials to make one auto rickshaw. Making these at scale in the current situation when the supply chain is terribly disrupted, is the greatest challenge,”she laments.

Having said that, the innovators have received encouragement from the government; they have been closely working with the government, especially in Mumbai. They have been backed by the BMC.

Future plans to deliver auto-rickshaw units to the entire nation…

Dr Chatterji further reveals his plans for the future. “We can manufacture as many auto-rickshaws as needed. The oxygen response auto rickshaws are the lowest per bed cost of any comparable emergency oxygen in the world and must be scaled up as we need to keep fatality rates low amidst the easing of lockdown measures and COVID-19 cases soaring,” she mentioned.

She also mentioned that the success of this endeavour depends mainly on successful partnerships with local government bodies across the country. Referring to their other partnerships with the government, Chatterji revealed that they have been able to set up 720 beds of COVID-19 hospitals in several cities.

Well, this is just another example of how a common objective to surmount the current crisis can lead to fruitful partnerships between private institutes and the government. We need more of such innovations that can facilitate our healthcare community to succeed in the fight against COVID-19.

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