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Coronavirus pandemic: Dwindling inventory, supply chain disruption — India faces shortage of ventilators

Ventilators are critical for the care of people with lung failure, which can be one of the complications suffered by patients with severe COVID-19.

March 23, 2020 / 09:49 PM IST

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AgVa Healthcare, the Noida-based company that manufactures ventilators is racing against time to clear the backlog of orders. As cases of COVID-19 rising, AgVa has been flooded with enquires from states that are scrambling to equip hospital beds with ventilators as they prepare for the worst.

A ventilator is a mechanical breathing device that can blow air and oxygen into the lungs. Ventilators are critical for the care of people with lung failure, which can be one of the complications suffered by patients with severe COVID-19.

It's estimated that India has 30,000 ventilators for a population of 1.3 billion -  a woefully short number to deal with if COVID-19 cases rise in the coming days.

To serve the growing demand, AgVa is keeping its production lines open 24 hours a day. But it faces one major obstacle to keep its manufacturing lines firing - and that is the dwindling inventory of components such as valves, hoses, motors and electronics like LCD screens – many of which come from China.

"We will soon be over with Ventilator's raw material & production will entirely halt. None of the international freight service is fully operational. There is a huge need and we are really stuck; only the government can help us," said Diwakar Vaish, Co-Founder of AgVa.

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Another executive of AgVa told Moneycontrol that the situation is desperate, and the government should help the company in arranging transport to ship the components from China. “As soon as we have access to components we will ramp up the capacity to supply at least 20,000 ventilators in the next 30 days,” the person noted.

AgVa is also looking to raise capital to fund capacity expansion.

"We had enquiries from Tatas and Mahindra Group for investment, we are also looking at other sources as well," the above executive said.

Rising demand

If AgVa fails to get its components on time, then that is bad news for the country. Buying from outside wouldn't be easy as several European and Asian countries have already banned the export of ventilators.

A ventilator costs anywhere between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 12 lakh. AgVa says it sells its ventilator at about Rs 2 lakh by far the cheapest but more basic one.

It isn't AgVa alone other manufacturers such as Chennai-based Trivitron, Mysuru-based Skanray Technologies and even Mahindra Group is also exploring how its factories could used to make ventilators. Moneycontrol learned that even MNCs like GE are running low on inventories.

"We are trying to manufacture ventilators, we are a few weeks away," said GSK Velu, Chairman and Managing Director of Trivitron Healthcare.

PTI reported on Monday that the health ministry reviewed the situation with around six to seven major international and national suppliers to assess their supply position, manufacturing capacity as well as the feasibility of importing ventilators. The companies have told the government that the ban on the entry of commercial airlines in India would lead to paucity of components required to assemble ventilators.

Meanwhile, the government placed an order to procure 1,200 new ventilators. Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan have also started placing orders.
Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: Mar 23, 2020 09:30 pm

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