Above, photo by Peter Casamento: FREO2 Uganda team in Mbarara. From (L) to (R) Frank Kiwanuka, Sandrah, Ivan Muhumuza, Sheillah Mutetire Bagayana and Patrick Semata.
by Roger Rassool, physicist at the University of Melbourne and co-founder of the FREO2 Foundation
Imagination is more important than knowledge. This was confirmed for me during a meeting of individuals from very divergent backgrounds where my physicist colleagues and I were introduced to the concept of equity and global health. Our friends from the Nossal Institute for Global Health invited our team of physicists to a “No Limits” symposium where they discussed the many challenges they faced, hoping that we might have some technology solutions. This was the first time we heard about the plight of childhood pneumonia. We listened carefully as they explained the key role that oxygen could play in treatment. Oxygen to them was a medicine. We were hooked.
Can you imagine a hospital ward without a light or without a power point? And what about without an oxygen outlet? Almost a third of the world’s population has no electricity, little money, and a shortage of oxygen in their health services.
Above, photo by Peter Casamento:
Roger and Frank installing the FREO2 system in the pediatric ward of Mbarara Referral Hospital
This symposium we attended catalysed the creation of the inter-disciplinary research collaboration which subsequently spun out from the University of Melbourne and established the FREO2 Foundation. Our work is shaped by an ambitious long-term goal which is to ensure that “every health facility that cares for in-patients has a reliable supply of oxygen.”
As a first step in this journey, we set ourselves a simple objective - to produce and store oxygen in the field without relying on electricity. This solution would need to be appropriate and affordable for low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Our aim was to challenge the notion that you always needed conventional electricity to produce oxygen. We now have achieved this objective with several innovations, which can be strategically combined to create an uninterruptable oxygen supply. A recent clinical trial in Uganda has confirmed that over a 3-month period, the FREO2 system provided 100% availability of oxygen to four beds in a ward. During this trial there were more than 85 blackouts and yet the oxygen flow was never interrupted.
An important part of our rollout strategy is to empower communities by creating local ownership and employment in the installation, maintenance, and repair of FREO2 oxygen systems. Our team in Uganda is led by a young vibrant engineer, Sheillah Mutetire Bagayana. Her team installed and maintains the systems. It is their skill and dedication that delivered the positive outcome for the trial.
And so in this small ward, they no longer have to imagine. There is an oxygen outlet, and the nursing staff can rely on it to deliver lifesaving oxygen.
Above, photo by Peter Casamento: Sheillah and Patrick check the system.