Indian companies, which have been working to produce an affordable ventilator for the domestic COVID-19 patients, are facing several challenges such as shortage supply of components, soaring prices, and non-availability of labor.
Indian ventilators manufacturing companies had to delay the productions of the devices as the manufacturing cycles of the producers got disturbed due to the shortage of device components and workers during the national lockdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Major Challenges of Indian Ventilator Producers
Domestic companies including Bengaluru-based Dynamatic Technologies, startup Nocca Robotics, and New Delhi’s AgVa Healthcare are at the forefront aiming to fill the expected supply gap with stripped-down ventilators, priced between $33 and $7,000. A source reported, the top-end ventilators can cost up to $16,000 in India.
However, the production of the devices is estimated to be delayed up to two weeks due to India’s lockdown forced to cause a shortage of components and labor while many countries are boosting the device output.
According to Reuters, “Dynamatic Technologies is making a $33 ventilator that does not need electricity to function, while AgVa is aiming to make 10,000 ventilators by mid-May, priced under $2,000.” The co-founder of AgVa, Diwakar Vaish said, the company is currently collaborating with automaker Maruti Suzuki and state-run Bharat Electronics to produce the devices amid facing labor shortages and higher costs of controllers and microprocessors to be imported from Germany, the US, and China. Vaish added, “The overall costs have… doubled, maybe even tripled.”
Amitabha Bandyopadhyay, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, who is collaborating with Nocca, stated, “We require components that are extremely hard to procure.” Bandyopadhyay added, Nocca’s overall target was hampered and “now aims to make 30,000 ventilators by mid-May, as it struggles to import high-capacity pumps and flow sensors that help regulate air in ventilators.” He explained, “These materials are so rare now in the international market that there has been a 50%-75% increase in prices in the last one month.”
Current Stock Not Sufficient for Peak Scenario
Indian experts had earlier warned that the existing stock of ventilators, which help patients breathe and are devices used for critical patients of COVID-19, would be running out of supply when the virus-infection reaches its peak in the country around mid-May. Experts claimed that Indian presently has nearly 50,000 devices but would need 20 times of the existing stock in a peak infection scenario.
Subhrojyoti Bhowmick, clinical director, academics, and research department, at Peerless Hospital in the eastern city of Kolkata, projected, “If 10% of our population is infected and only 1% of them need ventilators, even then we are way behind.” Bhowmick added that Indian hospitals had less interest in installing ventilators due to its expensive prices in the initial stage of the pandemic and now these devices are available mainly in some hospitals in bigger Indian cities.
The Indian government has lately entered to help in easing the shortage of components supply and taken initiatives to speed up ventilators’ production. Apart from the floating a tender for 20,000 ventilators by a State-run HLL Lifecare Ltd., the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), a government agency, is collaborating with Skanray, a key medical device producer based in the southern city of Mysuru.
Citing that “the lockdown is a serious disabler” for all manufacturers, Dynamatic Technologies’ CEO Udayant Malhoutra said, “The challenge is huge because the whole ecosystem of suppliers is shut down.” He added, “In a 10-month development cycle, that means you are off by a month” due to a delay of 3-4 days in the 30-day manufacturing cycle prompted by the lockdown.
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