From missile-maker to mask-designer, DRDO combats Covid-19 through cutting-edge technology

At a time when India is facing challenges due to the second wave of the pandemic, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), an important R&D wing of the Ministry of Defence is leaving no stone unturned to rise to the nation’s requirements at this unprecedented time. From constructing medical oxygen plants, hospitals, oxygen storage infrastructure to stepping into developing anti-Covid drugs, sanitisation products and AI tools for Covid detection in X-rays; DRDO is taking India on the path of self-reliance by providing the essentials in the hour of need. Hence, it is important to acknowledge these significant contributions that have come as a great respite for India.

DRDO’s initiatives to combat Coronavirus

DRDO’s 2-DG drug to save lives

In recent developments, DRDO has come up with an anti-Covid oral drug which has been approved by the Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI) for emergency use on moderate to severe corona positive patients. In the clinical trials, the patients administered with the drug, 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-DG) have shown faster recovery while reduced supplement oxygen dependence is also observed. DRDO, aligning with PM Narendra Modi’s call for preparedness against the pandemic, took the initiative of developing this antidote which will extend immense benefits to the people fighting against the virus. The drug has been developed by the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS), a lab of DRDO.

DRDO develops AI tools for COVID detection

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) has developed an Artificial Intelligence algorithm that can detect the presence of Covid-19 disease in Chest X-rays.

Named ATMAN AI, this artificial intelligence tool is designed to rapidly diagnose and effectively treat Covid patients. This tool has shown an accuracy rate of 96.73%. The team behind developing this technology has stated that this tool is fast, cost-effective and efficient. Apart from rapidly diagnosing the virus, the aim of this tool is to reduce the existing burden on radiologists, owing to the overload of CT scans in the country. 5C network, a digital network of radiologists in the country, has announced to put this device to use in nearly 1,000 hospitals in India.

DRDO step up to set up Medical Oxygen Plants in the country

DRDO not only extended services and technologies in a specific area but rather provided aid by leveraging its extensive program management capability. In view of the recent surge in demand for oxygen supply, DRDO addressed this problem with timely intervention. On-Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) which is used by fighter aircraft, has been undertaken by DRDO to help in bridging the gap of demand for oxygen for Covid-19 patients. DRDO designed Medical Oxygen Plants with a capacity of 1,000 litres per minute (LPM). The system is capable of catering to 190 patients at a flow rate of 5 LPM and charges 195 cylinders per day. Further, to avoid any wastage of oxygen, DRDO developed SpO2 (Blood Oxygen Saturation) which would dynamically increase or decrease the oxygen flow based on the SpO2 level of the patient.

The DRDO has initiated the fabrication of 500 Medical Oxygen Plants which will be installed within three months. Apart from this, to address the issue of cylinder shortage, DRDO mobilised more than 1,000 large cylinders for oxygen shortage.

DRDO set up a 500-bedded hospital with ICU facilities

DRDO has designed, developed and operationalised makeshift Covid-19 hospitals on a war footing. The first project in Delhi’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Covid Hospital saw a 500-beds ICU facility which was built in a record time of 12 days. This is the biggest facility in Delhi in terms of ICUs for Covid-19 patients. The facilities at the hospital include oxygen supply, X-ray, electrocardiogram (ECG), ventilators, Covid Test Lab and other necessary medical equipment.

Within six weeks, nine makeshift hospitals with 1,275 ICU beds and 3,925 beds with oxygen supply are being commissioned to combat the second wave. On 5 May 2021, a facility in Lucknow was made operational with 500 beds, which also included 1,500 ICU beds for critical patients.

In an exclusive interview with All India Radio, DRDO chairman, Dr G Satheesh Reddy stated that DRDO is making a hospital in Varanasi, a 750 bedded hospital with 500 beds and 250 ICU beds. Hospitals will be established at Rishikesh, Haldwani, and Jammu & Srinagar. Armed Forces medical services are providing the construction of the majority of hospitals. DRDO is taking the complete responsibility of running the hospital, providing all the support to the armed forces, and ensuring that the hospital is running properly.

DRDO effectively develop & allocate medical aid in the hour of need

When the global supply for PPE kits, N95 respirators/masks and ventilators was gradually decreasing and there was an immediate need to fill the space, DRDO stepped in to provide the medical aid and necessary equipment. DRDO developed COVID-19 technologies and products such as ventilators, decontamination tunnels, personal protective equipment (PPEs), N95 masks, contact-free sanitiser dispensers, sanitisation chambers and medical robots, trolleys etc.

DRDO used their laboratories which are constantly working on biological warfare to develop the sanitisers. DRDO laboratory working on lasers has developed UV sanitization equipment. DRDO has also made a bio-suit for medical professionals to help them fight coronavirus disease. Interestingly, the bio-suit made by DRDO said to have prepared a special sealant as an alternative to seam sealing tape based on the sealant used in submarine applications.

Applying technical knowledge to combat the virus, DRDO tweaked fire fighting equipment into machines to spray disinfectants. Apart from this, DRDO develops mobile labs for faster COVID-19 sample testing.

DRDO gave the best when the nation needed the most. DRDO spearheaded hope by missiles-maker to mask-designer and tank designer to innovating technologies to save lives. The capabilities of DRDO have shown that India is capable of handling critical situations in very little time. The togetherness of several organizations has outlined the power of working together during a crisis.

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