Federal Swiss FDFA supports ETH Zurich project to produce affordable ventilators for developing countries

Many countries are facing a severe shortage of ventilators. Access to this life-saving technology is critical for people with breathing difficulties, such as patients suffering from COVID-19. The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) is therefore making a humanitarian contribution to the production of simple and affordable ventilators. Through start-up financing, it is supporting an ETH Zurich project to produce cost-effective ventilators in Ukraine which will also be accessible to emerging and developing countries. On June 30, 2020 Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis and Ukraine’s ambassador to Switzerland, Artem Rybchenko, signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the terms of the start-up funding.

According to aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières, the Central African Republic has only three ventilators for a population of five million. The UN has reported a severe shortage of such equipment throughout all of Africa. ETH Zurich has therefore launched a project to produce ventilators simply and cheaply using, for the most part, standardised components that are locally available. The first large batch of such devices is to be produced in Ukraine. They will initially be delivered to health centres and first aid posts in Ukraine, where demand is high, and may subsequently also be exported, for example to developing countries. Such ventilators can be used not only to treat the symptoms of COVID-19 but also for a wider range of needs, for example in outpatient clinics. This allows the high-end ventilators to be reserved for critical patients. The FDFA considers this a humanitarian project and is therefore providing CHF 1.5 million in start-up funding to support the production of low-cost ventilators. This contribution will be made through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

On June 30, 2020 Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis and Ukraine’s ambassador to Switzerland, Artem Rybchenko, signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Bern setting out the criteria for the start-up funding. “This project is an example of science diplomacy,” said Mr Cassis. “It also demonstrates the potential of cooperation with the scientific community for sustainable development.” In developing these ventilators, for example, ETH Zurich is using open source academic data, thereby saving on research and development costs. This project illustrates the effectiveness of the FDFA’s cooperation with other actors in sustainable development. Within the Tech4Good programme, the FDFA is working with industry and science worldwide to promote innovative technological approaches and thereby increase their effectiveness. Increased engagement with the private sector and academia is also one of the priorities of Switzerland’s international cooperation strategy for 2021–24.

A Low-Cost Ventilator for All


Countries with more fragile medical systems, for example in low and middle-income countries, need low-cost ventilators to raise the capacity of their healthcare systems1. They are likely to be left out of the current surge in ventilator development for COVID-19 due to international shortages and prohibitive costs.


We are a team of engineers, a product designer and medical advisors who are designing, prototyping and testing a low-cost ventilator to meet the unique needs of the current COVID-19 crisis. We are getting a head start on a next-generation ventilator that builds on the current fast- paced developments, especially open-source, to create a modular and user-driven product concept.

After an analysis of around 40 different open-source projects, we chose to develop an emergency- use ventilator that is meant to be used in emergencies, like the COVID-19 crisis, when there is no other ventilation means. The ventilator works by the automated and controlled compression of a standard “Ambu bag”, or inflating bag. We base our design on the open-source, E-Vent project from MIT that served as inspiration. We improve the mechanical design in terms of buildability, compactness and robustness as well as add a new, intuitive product interaction and design. The controls and electronics of the ventilator are completely designed and implemented at ETH.

We are interested in customising the design for the needs of partner countries, knowledge transfer to these countries and/or co-development opportunities.

Key Design Goals:

•             low-cost, i.e. under 5000 CHF

•             use-case driven

•             multiple ventilation modes

•             intuitive, simple product interaction

•             improved buildability, compactness and robustness, e.g. ~80% standard parts

•             maximum modularity and adaptability, e.g. for local supply chains

•             robust and easy to maintain

•             open

Please visit our website for more information, pictures and a video: http://www.breathe.ethz.ch For all inquiries, please contact: Prof. Kristina Shea, kshea@ethz.ch, Project Lead