TUNIS—While Tunisia’s schools and universities have been closed as part of the lockdown measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, some academic institutions continue to work in search of solutions and tools in response to the outbreak.
The National School of Engineering in Sousse and the Faculty of Medicine in the same city, a which is 90 miles south of the capital, Tunis, have launched a program to encourage students to conduct research related to the manufacture of ventilators for people infected with Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
“We seek to motivate students to engage in science and knowledge with all the country’s institutions to counter the virus outbreak,” said Aref al-Meddab, director of the engineering school. “Classrooms are closed, but that does not mean halting science and research.”
The ventilator project, which started in mid-March, is called “Yes, We Breathe.”
As of Monday, May 4, the number of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in Tunisia was just over 1,000, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health, while the number of deaths reached 42. Like other countries, Tunisia fears that the number of infected persons will increase and that the demand for ventilators and other equipment will rise beyond what public hospitals can provide.
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“Today all borders are closed, which prevents us from importing the equipment we need,” said Habib Fathallah, adviser to the Office of the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
“Even if the borders were open, every country will prefer to keep equipment for its people,” said Fathallah, whose ministry has encouraged universities to participate seriously in efforts to cope with the virus. “Therefore we, in the ministry, bet on our students and researchers as our real capital to combat the virus.”
Since the “Yes, we breathe” program was launched, a large number of students have asked to participate, even if from a distance.
“The program is a great opportunity and a unique experience for us as students, despite the lockdown conditions,” said Salma el-Wardi, a second-year engineering student at the National School of Engineering. “However, with our teachers we managed to form a virtual working group and we succeeded within ten days in designing a 3D model for medical masks and a prototype for a ventilator,” she said.