When COVID-19 hit Mexico in early March, the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition Salvador Zubirán (INCMNSZ) went back to the future—and fast—to increase the country’s supply of ventilators. Collaborating with 15 companies, the organization developed the VSZ-20-2, a low-cost ventilator designed and made entirely in Mexico. And they did it in record time.
“To develop a machine typically takes four, five, six years. We were racing under the deadline because we had to do it in just 10 weeks,” said Ramsés Galaz Méndez, CEO, GSE Biomedical, one of the companies that worked on the project.
Demand was urgent: Mexico’s healthcare system needed a more affordable option to avoid scrambling to import expensive ventilators. Facing down a compressed schedule forced the team to get creative with manufacturing and suppliers. Instead of starting from scratch, INCMNSZ turned to an experimental prototype from three decades ago. The team evaluated how to retrofit the device to meet current needs and then enlisted the Mexican government for help connecting it with U.S. manufacturers that could produce critical parts.
The end result is a ventilator tailor-made for the pandemic. Designers intentionally created the device to filter its own air rather than relying on hospital wall outlets—making it suitable for use in some of the more unusual emergency treatment facilities, including converted convention center spaces, military barracks and even Mexico City’s Formula One track. The ventilator’s piston-driven design and mechanical valves also help to save scarce oxygen and require fewer foreign-made parts. The team kept an eye on the price tag, too: The VSZ-20-2 costs US$12,000, far below the market price.
Nearly 200 have been produced so far, with the machines making their way into the country’s intensive care units. As the team ramps up production to as many as 500 ventilators per week, some of the units are also shipping to U.S. hospitals.