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Coronavirus ventilator rush to breathe fresh air into Indian medical sector

Coronavirus ventilator rush to breathe fresh air into Indian medical sector

Over the last two months, every second scientific and medical research institute is working on developing ventilators for coronavirus patients. With dire projections about shortage of ventilators across the world, and more so in the case of India, there is a rush to procure these complicated and expensive machines.

Estimates say that the country has between 30,000 and 50,000 ventilators, in both the private and public sector healthcare systems—mostly in intensive care units (ICUs). Skeptics also worry how many of these are in working condition.

Some say India needs as many as 80-100 times the existing ventilators. Another estimate says India needs between 110,000 to 220,000 ventilators in total. Yet another estimate says there is a shortage of around 70,000 ventilators.

At the moment, India mostly relies on imported ventilators, which are expensive. Only a handful of ventilators are assembled here. For an approximately Rs 500-crore market, the leaders are mainly MNCs.

In a mad rush to overcome the shortage of these intricate and complicated machines, the government, IITs, PSUs, start-ups, automobile companies—both Indian and foreign with a presence in India—have jumped into the fray.

With this scramble, one wonders if all of them can develop a ventilator in a jiffy that too in a Covid-19 emergency, what were they, including the Government of India, doing all these years. Why has India been importing these expensive machines and not manufacturing them here?

Internationally, the prowess of the Indian IT, pharmaceutical and medical-tourism sectors is acknowledged. Indians have been at the forefront of technology, innovation and enterprise as well. And it is these sectors, apart from a few others, whose expertise is required in the making of ventilators. Add to it the fact that India has healthy and fertile human resources—with qualified and knowledgeable doctors, engineers, scientists, researchers and many others who can come together and put together made-in-India ventilators.

Let us look at a few more facts.

Railways Minister Piyush Goyal tweeted recently: "In fight against coronavirus, the engineers at the Kapurthala Rail Coach Factory have developed a prototype of a ventilator named 'Jeevan', which is extremely inexpensive. This ventilator made with indigenous technology will be a great relief for our comrades fighting the corona epidemic."

Doctors at the Nagpur-based New Era hospital have improvised a splitter for ventilators which can serve eight patients, instead of the usual one patient, through one ventilator.

The Pune-based Nocca Robotics, a startup of young and talented engineers have already developed prototypes of low-cost ventilators. Who are these engineers? Most from IIT-Kanpur.

Dr Rajeev Chauhan, from Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, has collaborated with Gyrodrive Machineries Ltd, a Pune startup, to develop an affordable and automatic Artificial Manual Breathing Unit.

The Noida-based AgVa Healthcare has been in news across the world for its indigenously-designed, low-cost wide-range of ventilators, many of which it has been exporting.

To be fair to the automobile sector, Maruti-Suzuki is jumping onto the ventilator bandwagon, so is Mahindra and even Hyundai. I am sure there are many others too—companies, start-ups, and concerned individuals.

The time is ripe for different sectors to put their heads together. The government can take a lead and the coronavirus crisis can be an opportunity for India to make its presence felt in the international healthcare and medical sectors—the way it has done by supplying pharmaceuticals and APIs across the globe. The medical devices industry is big not just in India but globally too and this is the opportune time to not just become the pharmacist of the world but the device manufacturer of the world as well..