SLAF spreads wings of care

September 10, 2021

By Dishan Joseph

SLAF spreads wings of care

The Heated Humidified Oxygen Therapy (HHOT) Unit manufactured by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) has been distributed to many hospitals and saved the lives of Covid infected patients. The project has become a success due to the hard work of SLAF engineering officers and technicians who have been guided by specialist doctors.

Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana explained, “This project is a manifestation of our team work. When I was the Chief of Staff, a request was made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to manufacture the HHOT units. We had our aviation engineers and technicians. This team was advised initially by renowned scientist Dr. Bandula Wijayarathna who is living overseas. Subsequently we were guided by Dr. Thilanka Rathnapala and Professor Ranil de Silva. It took us about nine months of trial and error, slowly upgrading the HHOT Unit. I am happy to say that 90 percent of the parts required are turned out by the Air Force. A few sensors are obtained from overseas. I am thankful to a group of Sri Lankans living overseas who have come forward to help us get these sensors. In the first batch our team made 25 HHOT Units. We presented the first working unit to the President. These units are not only for Covid patients, but can be used for any patient requiring heated oxygen.”

The Heated Humidified Oxygen Therapy Unit manufactured by the Sri Lanka Air Force was officially presented to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on May 12, 2021, at the President’s Office. This event was attended by the then Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Defence Secretary General (Retd) Kamal Gunaratna, Health Secretary Major General (Retd) Sanjeewa Munasinghe Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana, Director General Engineering Air Vice Marshal M.D. Rathnayake, Commanding Officer of the General Engineering Wing of the SLAF, Group Captain Prasanka Martino, Dr. Thilanka Ratnapala who was one of the medical experts of the design team and Squadron Leader K.R.R.N. Pushpakumara, the Project Engineering Officer.

The SLAF under the leadership of the Air Force Commander took the lead in designing and developing the HHOT Unit under the then Commanding Officer of the General Engineering Wing, Group Captain Indika Wickramasinghe with the expert guidance of Dr. Bandula Wijayarathna, Professor Ranil De Silva and a team of medical experts. The manufacturing process was carried out by technical experts of the General Engineering Wing at Air Force Base Katunayake under the supervision of the Commanding Officer, Group Captain Prasanka Martino.

The present Project Manager Squadron Leader Nimesh Abeywardena said, “We accepted this challenge. There are five officers assisted by a team of Air Force technicians. It takes us four days to manufacture each unit. We fabricate the stand, mixing chamber air flow valves and oxygen meters. Our first model was tested for 200 hours in order to check its limitations, safety features and performance standards. Once endorsed for production we made 25 units in the first batch. Each of these units is tested for eight hours before being given to the hospitals. Each HHOT unit has a six hour back up battery. We gave our first unit to the Gampaha General Hospital and on the same day they used our HHOT Unit to treat and stabilize a heart patient who needed oxygen. We have begun making our second batch.”

The new HHOT Unit was presented to the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) of Sri Lanka and successfully completed the second evaluation on June 25, 2020, with compliance to IEC 60601 Electrical Safety Standard as confirmed by the University of Moratuwa. Even though the initial estimate was Rs. 1.5 million, the finally production cost was reduced to a minimal Rs. 300,000 owing to the outstanding efforts of the Air Force Engineering Team.

The Air Force manufactured units have been sent to the following hospitals: National Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH), General Hospital Peradeniya, General Hospital Teldeniya, General Hospital Karapitiya, General Hospital Kalutara, Ranaviru Base Hospital Galgamuwa, General Hospital Gampaha, General Hospital Kalubowila, General Hospital Anuradhapura, General Hospital Ragama and General Hospital Avisawella. Of these units six were donated by the SLAF and the balance were sponsored by private donors who came forward to assist this worthy project. The SLAF appreciates the special financial donation from Nadun Wijesekara, Surin Gunawardene (Australia), Gohan Liyanage (Australia) and M/s Metropolitan Office Pvt Ltd.

They also appreciate the following persons from the Sri Lankan community in the US for providing the vital oxygen sensors for this project: Ayusha Amarakoon, Sri Lanka Association Midwest, Group Coordinator, Medical Equipment and Compact Oxygen Machines.

Additionally the SLAF has sponsored 10 machines for their own use at the SLAF Hospitals located at Katunayake, Ratmalana, Guwanpura and the SLAF Academy at China Bay (Trincomalee). For the second batch of 25 units Ayusha Amarakoon, Sri Lanka Association Midwest has come forward again to coordinate and sponsor all the electronic components valued at Rs. 2 million.

Dr. Thilanka Rathnapala, a medical officer attached to the Lady Ridgeway Hospital in Colombo was a member of the design team. He said, “I was introduced to the SLAF engineers by Dr. Bandula Wijayarathna. Normally when a patient has low oxygen saturation, we try to improve his condition by treating with High Flow Nasal Oxygen device. What we have found with some Covid patients is their lungs are subsequently infected and require urgent medical intervention. In such cases using this SLAF made HHOT unit, we can give patients who display breathing difficulties 60 litres of life saving oxygen per minute. However, normally we have observed in this treatment process the nostrils (nasal passage) can become dry and irritated due to the rapid intake of oxygen. This is where the HHOT Unit makes a vast difference in giving humidified oxygen, which is easy for the patient to absorb. With the onset of Covid-19 we were asked to inhale steam, so this HHOT system also has this element within its delivery process. We have been able to observe patients making good recovery when using the SLAF made unit. Also I must commend the Air Force for the high standards of safety and cleanliness in the manufacturing process.”

Professor Ranil de Silva attached to the Kotelawala Defence University, also a member of this team said, “In normal circumstances the oxygen in the air is 21 percent and we inhale this. However the oxygen concentration in the blood drops for those afflicted with Covid. With the use of the SLAF made HHOT Unit we can safely increase the oxygen levels to 100 percent. If required we can deliver 80 litres of oxygen per minute to those with breathing difficulties. Once the first unit was made we did the clinical trials at the KDU Hospital, under the supervision of Professor (Dr). P.T.R. Makuloluwa, who is the President of the College of Anesthesiologists. They too endorsed this innovative HHOT Unit. By using this in hospitals we are pleased to see that the need for patients to use ventilators has been drastically reduced.”

Through this unique medical project the Sri Lanka Air Force together with Sri Lankan medical experts has manufactured an aviation grade product of high standards and made a major contribution to save lives.

Courtesy - www.dailynews.lk