Incubating the cause: Nissan and UP’s Faculty of Health Sciences combat COVID-19 with INTUboxes

Posted on May 27, 2020

A partnership between Nissan and the University of Pretoria (UP) that contributes to efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 is an example of adaptability in trying times as the pandemic delays the production of vehicles.

Nissan and the University of Pretoria have partnered to create and manufacture INTUboxes. 

The INTUbox is a transparent vessel-box created to protect health professionals who would have to intubate and treat acutely ill COVID-19 patients.  The INTUbox prevents viral droplets from spreading to the attending health professionals by containing droplets inside the box, significantly reducing the risk of exposure.

During the handover at Prinshof Campus, representatives from both Nissan and UP’s Faculty of Health Sciences explained that the INTUboxes demonstrate the adaptability of both organisations’ based on the plea from President Cyril Ramaphosa that businesses must act responsibly to reignite the country's economy, on which all South African lives ultimately depend, in a manner that limits the spread of the virus and prevents panic.

“At Nissan, we’re proud to bring the urgent and dramatic measure to delay the spread of the virus. We stand behind President Ramaphosa’s plea; it is our responsibility as corporates to support the fight against the virus. Our health workers are at the heart of this fight, displaying courage and unwavering commitment while caring for patients,” said Shinkichi Izumi, the Managing Director of Nissan South Africa. “We must do all we can to ensure that the underlying economy continues to function and to focus support on those that need it, in whichever way possible.”

Professor Veronica Ueckermann, Head of the COVID-19 response team and Adjunct Professor at the Department of Internal Medicine, University of Pretoria, and Steve Biko Academic Hospital, said that 15 INTUboxes have been donated and each INTU box intubates one patient at a time. “Two intubating stations are available in the emergency department at Steve Biko Academic Hospital (tent and isolation) and three for Tshwane District Hospital (tent, emergency department and COVID-19 ward) to accommodate both sites.  All doctors using the INTUboxes will be well-trained using simulated scenarios facilitated by Professor Ronel Herselman and a team of educators and clinicians at the Faculty’s skills labs. The valuable aspect of these boxes is that they can be reused after a thorough cleaning and disinfecting,” added Prof Ueckermann.

“With rising infections, mostly through community transmission settings where densely populated areas are a high concern, the INTUboxes have specifically been designed with the benefit of performing an aerosol-generating procedure (such as suctioning or extubation) that keeps the aerosols in the box,” Prof Ueckermann said. The box has a hepa-filter exhaust tube which injects cleanliness into the box at all times by clearing out the contaminated air. “Although the INTUbox is simple to use, the intubation process is administered by a qualified person, well-versed in the use of the box,” she added.   

“The Faculty of Health Sciences is involved in over 30 projects to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic. We value the partnership between Nissan and UP,” said Professor Tiaan de Jager, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences.  “Through partnerships and innovation we will win the battle against COVID-19,” he said.

Over the lockdown period, UP’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Nissan developed three iterations of the INTUbox. “We created a programme on one of our cutting robots to produce the boxes and employees volunteered their time to manufacture them,” said Shafick Solomons, Director of Manufacturing at Nissan South Africa.

Nissan recognised the need to support its employees and the greater community by investigating personal protective equipment (PPE) options, based on benchmarking. The INTUboxes were identified, and Nissan sought medical expertise and guidance from UP in manufacturing the boxes. 

“Providing these INTUboxes is a way for Nissan and UP’s Faculty of Health Sciences to protect and thank those who are working tirelessly to meet the country’s daily essential needs. We’re doing this by leading with sincerity in everything we can from manufacturing to logistics. It is very important for all key stakeholders to collaborate during this crisis,” Solomons said.

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