Nepal’s answer to COVID-19 treatment in isolation ward



Bikash Gurung, President of Robotic Association of Nepal (RAN), was happy to see nurses excited to use Sister Robot in Hetaunda Hospital for medicine and food delivery on May 5 when Nepal Engineers’ Association (NEA) handed over the robot to the hospital. “We taught the nurses how to use the remote once and went for brunch. When we returned, we found them teaching each other,” said Gurung. The robot can be used to provide medicine and food to COVID-19 patients thus protecting healthcare workers to a large degree.

Bhola Chaulagain, an isolation ward in-charge of the hospital, is now communicating and serving food and medicine to COVID 19 patients via the robot developed by RAN with joint effort of Kantibir Robotics, The Robonauts and Oztec, which was gifted to the hospital.

As per Chaulagain, the robot is doing main tasks — food and medicine delivery, and video calling patients in the ward. “The robot keeps updating us about what the patients are doing, their situation through videos and photos. As such we don’t need to go to the ward risking ourselves. We also do remote controlled food delivery to the patients. As there are a few patients in the ward, it is able to work throughout the day.”

Photo courtesy: Bhola Chaulagain / Bikash Gurung

Gurung explained, “There is a remote to control the robot by the operator. There is a camera which screens everything live on the desktop/laptop in the controlling/operating room. So, the user is able to deliver stuff and at the same time, interact with patient via the robot.”

He said it can work continuously for two hours on a single full charge.

However, Chaulagian said due to the not-so-robot-friendly infrastructure of the ward, he is not being able to get 100 per cent from the robot. “The isolation ward is in Shramik Secondary School, around two kilometres from the hospital. There are a total of 14 patients on ground and first floors. There is no ramp like in hospitals and the robot cannot step up the stairs to reach the first floor. Another problem is that the route to the rooms is bumpy because of which there is chance of food falling while delivering  despite its capacity to carry up to 50 lunch boxes at a time. So, we are mostly using it for communicating and medicine delivery.”

Photo courtesy: Bhola Chaulagain / Bikash Gurung

Addressing the feedbacks of its earlier prototype, RAN developed Sister Robot V1.0 after 20 days of effort from April 14. It had developed the prototype robot which was tested twice at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH) and APF Hospital on April 12 and April 14 respectively.

As per Gurung, RAN started brainstorming how to fight coronavirus through technology before the government announced  lockdown. During the lockdown, it formed the Drone Rapid Response Team to monitor those who violate lockdown rule.

“Later, Kantibir Robotic’s Pankaj Japrel, The Robonauts’ Anil Singh pitched the idea of developing a full carrier robot while discussing about development of a swab transportation robot and food carrier robot,” explained Gurung.

TUTH suggested to embed the features of video call, interactive and auto-disinfecting. “The APF requested us to develop six robots stating they will be effective in the pandemic,” shared Gurung.

After 20 days of test, it developed Sister Robot and handed it over to Hetaunda Hospital.

A team of 10 members including are working to develop six more robots. Anil Singh, the team leader said the robots would likely be completed within this week.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on May 16, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.

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