March 24, 2020 / 10:56 PM / 12 days ago

An online lifeline in Portugal for old ventilators amid coronavirus crisis

(This March 24 story was republished to correct Nascimento’s title in paragraph 3)

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective mask as a preventive measure against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) enters the subway at Rossio Square in downtown Lisbon, Portugal March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/File Photo

By Catarina Demony

LISBON (Reuters) - As hospitals struggle to cope with a shortage of life-saving ventilators to treat coronavirus patients, a group of volunteers from Portugal launched on Tuesday evening a unique platform hoping to bring old, unused medical equipment back to life.

On the online platform Vent2Life, Portuguese hospitals can create free accounts and report malfunctioning equipment stored at their facilities. The platform will then link the hospital with a skilled technician who can fix the problem.

“It is ready to connect hospitals and health centers with technicians and engineers to repair ventilators,” the mastermind behind the initiative, Joao Nascimento, a Portuguese entrepreneur who studies at Harvard University, wrote on Twitter moments after the platform went live.

Hundreds of people liked the tweet, and many replied thanking Nascimento and the volunteers for their work. “These are the acts the country needs,” one Twitter user said.

The platform, which took 10 days to put together by a team of software developers and designers, hopes to help repair at least 200 damaged or inactive ventilators currently stored at Portuguese hospitals spread across the country.

For now the platform can only be used by Portuguese hospitals, but Nascimento told Reuters it will soon be available in other countries, too.

The rapidly spreading outbreak, which has killed more than 17,000 people globally, is putting healthcare systems around the world in a tight spot and there is a shortage of ventilators needed to treat coronavirus patients.

Though Portugal, which declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, has only reported 2,362 coronavirus cases and 33 deaths, far fewer than in hard-hit Italy and Spain, the country’s health system is already under mounting pressure.

In an interview with TVI television on Monday, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said the country’s public hospitals have 1,142 ventilators and private hospitals have a further 250.

To tackle the crisis, the government already bought 500 ventilators from China. Private companies, such as the country’s biggest utility, EDP (EDP.LS), are also donating ventilators.

Nascimento said he hopes the broken ventilators can be working ahead of April 14, when the coronavirus epidemic is expected to peak in Portugal, according to Health Minister Marta Temido.

The platform has been backed by several companies and universities, including Portuguese medical schools.

Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Leslie Adler

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