World Pneumonia Day: Medical innovation by alumnus a potential lifesaver for COVID-19 patients
Posted: 12 November 2020
Australia Awards alumnus Dr Mohammod Jobayer Chisti is a globally renowned scientist, research paediatrician and expert in infectious diseases. In 2015, he led the invention of a low-cost oxygen therapy apparatus to treat children with severe pneumonia and hypoxemia. He is now modifying this device as a means of overcoming the shortage of ventilators for COVID-19 patients.
Dr Chisti is Clinical Lead of the Intensive Care Unit at Dhaka Hospital and a Senior Scientist at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b). Together with his team at icddr,b, Dr Chisti invented a low-cost version of a bubble continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This innovation produced a cheap and effective method of oxygen therapy that uses shampoo bottles to treat children with severe pneumonia. It received the People’s Choice Award for Most Promising Childhood Pneumonia Innovation at the Pneumonia Innovations Summit in New York in 2015.
More recently, Dr Chisti has been working closely with the Government of Bangladesh on research activities and capacity building as part of its COVID-19 response. He is now focusing on optimising the treatment of adult COVID-19 patients with severe pneumonia by using an adapted version of the low-cost bubble CPAP machine.
In a recent interview with the Dhaka Tribune, Dr Chisti explained that bubble CPAP could be a lifesaver for COVID-19 patients. He said that the World Health Organization (WHO) “has recommended the use of bubble CPAP for the treatment of children under five with COVID-19 with severe pneumonia based on our trials, including in Ghana, where beneficial effects were found”.
The WHO recommendation means that the low-cost bubble CPAP machine can be used for children with COVID-19, thereby helping to address the shortage of ventilators for COVID-19 patients in Bangladesh. However, Dr Chisti clarifies that rigorous testing and validation need to be done before the machine can be used on adults.
Given the physiological differences between the respiratory tracts of adults and children, Dr Chisti is now modifying the design of the nasal interface to minimise leakages. His team at icddr,b has already developed a silicon prototype mask that can be used to make the low-cost bubble CPAP machine appropriate for treating adults. The changes to the machine are aimed at delivering oxygen at a higher pressure to meet the demands of hypoxemic adult lungs and improve the comfort of patients.
“Once the modified device gets approval from the research review and ethical committees at icddr,b, it will be pilot-tested in our patients. I strongly believe we can overcome the ventilator crisis in Bangladesh and save COVID-19 patients’ lives through this innovation,” Dr Chisti says.
Dr Chisti completed a Master of Medicine at the University of Melbourne in 2010 as an Australia Awards scholar. During his study, he trained under Professor Trevor Duke, a leader in the field of pneumonia research and treatment, who introduced him to bubble CPAP.
Later, in 2014, Dr Chisti pursued a Doctor of Philosophy in Paediatric Respiratory Medicine from the University of Melbourne. As part of his PhD dissertation, Dr Chisti—along with the team of scientists from icddr,b—designed a randomised clinical trial to assess the outcome of the low-cost bubble CPAP machine among children with severe pneumonia and hypoxemia. The findings of this research showed the effectiveness of the invention and were published in the Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and best-known general medical journals.
Dr Chisti received an Australian Alumni Excellence Award for Research and Innovation in 2012 and was nominated for the University of Melbourne’s Chancellor’s Prize in 2015 for his PhD research.
“Studying in Australia was a life-changing experience,” he says. “The recognition from my university encouraged me to continue my clinical work and research activities on frugal health innovations. I am now advocating for wider testing to scale-up the use of bubble CPAP throughout Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa.”