A number of DIY ideas have flourished in Thailand as Thais are inspired to make their own protective equipment amid the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. “Thai Kit Spacer”, a medical tool for people with asthma and chronic bronchitis, is also among a products of such DIY ideas. Thanks to the collaboration of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Medicine and the Plastics Institute of Thailand, this Thai-made medical equipment can substitute expensive imported spacers and concurrently curb the spread of COVID-19.
People with asthma and chronic bronchitis need Meter Dose Inhaler (MDI), but children and the elderly in particular often have difficulty coordinating breathing and the use of the inhaler correctly. A spacer is recommended to help them inhale the medication more effectively.
Nevertheless, most spacers available in Thailand are imported by a few distributors, resulting in high prices. Also because the cost cannot be reimbursed, most patients do not have access to this device.
Due to this pain point, the Thai team led by Prof. Dr. Orapan Poachanukoon of Thammasat University Hospital and chairperson of Thai Asthma Council Association, invented a low-cost spacer to substitute imports and increase patients’ access. First, they equipped water bottles with a valve but durability remained an issue. Refinement continued. Thai Kit Spacer later was born with help from the Plastics Institute of Thailand on molding and production. The latest developed Thai Kit Spacer now covers both nose and mouth, allowing the effective release of medication and it is easy to use for both children and the elderly.
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the World Health Organization and asthma associations in Thailand and overseas have advised hospitals to reduce their use of nebulizers, as nebulizer could aerosolize droplets containing virus if the patients contract COVID-19. The virus could hence spread. Dr. Orapan thus modified Thai Kit Spacer as all these patients need a spacer device. Thai Kit Spacer COVID-19 Model reduces aerosol and hence reduces the spread of the virus. This helps protect medical staff from the aerosol. Meanwhile, the model has an oxygen tube for patients with severe symptoms who do need oxygen during MDI inhalation.
“Normally, if patients are short of breath and need oxygen, we cannot use a spacer for inhalation. Physicians in our team and Plastics Institute of Thailand’s engineers thus brainstormed and together we invented Thai Kit Spacer COVID-19 Model with an oxygen tube. This concurrently reduces the aerosol and gives patients the needed oxygen. We are churning out this for distribution to hospitals across the country. Our target is to produce and give awaay 10,000 pieces,” said Dr. Orapan.
According to Dr. Orapan, Thammasat University earlier teamed up with the Plastics Institute of Thailand, the Export-Import Bank of Thailand (EXIM Bank) and Dow Thailand Group in making and distributing Thai Kit Spacer to hospitals. The institute is now working with private companies in commercializing the device, which will increase Thais’ access to the device that is durable, light-weight, easy to carry and importantly, inexpensive.
“Thai Kit Spacer is primarily made from medical grade plastic that boasts safety, durability and light weight. It is thus easy to carry and use and demands a low production cost. The device will be priced at hundreds of baht, compared to the imported device that cost THB1,000-THB1,500. Thai Kit Spacer is easy to clean and can be reused repetitively,” Dr. Orapan said. She explained further that hospitals can clean the device in autoclaves like other medical tools.
“An important characteristic of Thai Kit Spacer is the plastic component reduces electrostatic discharge. It aerosolizes the medication and leaves nothing on the surface,” Dr. Orapan said.
She added that several medical devices like syringes and nasal wash bottles are made of plastic, because of durability, effectiveness, easy cleaning and low cost compared to other materials.
Having been involved with the Thai Kit Spacer project for 10 years, Dr. Orapan is pleased with the better-than-expected success. Her aspiration is to make this device “Spacer for All”, a medical equipment that is effective, safe and inexpensive for all Thais.
“Our thought was simply to deliver what patients needed. From a DIY idea, we produced a good spacer. This is beyond our expectation. From now, we will find out what else that patients want and we will strive to deliver it. The COVID-19 Model is an example of our effort to address a current need. We’ll be happy if patients have access to it as we expect,” she concluded.
The organizations interested in supporting the production of Thai Kit Spacer or donating the device to hospitals can contact Thammasat University Hospital’s ศูนย์ความเป็นเลิศด้านโรคภูมิแพ้ โรคหืดและระบบหายใจ at Tel. 02-9269139, 081-422-2851 and 086-4136040. The device is being distributed to individual asthma patients through WellGate Distribution Co., Ltd.