There is no gain saying the fact that 2020 has indeed been the year for ventilators and their manufacturers. At a time of the most nerve-wracking public health crisis in recent memory when more than a million people have lost their lives and hundreds of millions severely impacted stretching the global healthcare infrastructure to the limits, this ultimate lifesaving breathing device has turned out be the ‘angel of hope’ for thousands and thousands of Indians. As such in a sense, in a country where people were literally ‘gasping for breath,’ these man-made devices have helped the country as a whole successfully do that one thing that defines our very being – breathe. And no one more than the ventilator manufacturers themselves have been in the vanguard of what can be termed a ‘war’ against the pandemic, notwithstanding the guiding role of the government.
The status at the onset of the pandemic
As news of the fast-spreading contagion across the globe reached the Indian shores, the authorities in India scrambled to get the healthcare infrastructure up and running to meet the upcoming public health challenge. And ventilators had definitely constituted as one of the frontline weapons in this battle against the deadly coronavirus. However, the problem was that by most accounts, India was deeply short on the supply of ventilators. In February this year, there were only eight ventilator manufacturers in the country. According to collaborative research between the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy and Princeton University, India possessed only 48,000 ventilators for 1.3 billion people at the time of the outbreak of the pandemic. The same research had also estimated that most of the beds and ventilators in India were concentrated in seven states only underlining the inequality of distribution in the country. In a similar vein, a Brookings research had forecasted the need for as many as 1.1-2.2 lakh ventilators while estimating the availability of ventilators at 57,000 based on a news report in the first week of April. Going by government sources, the ministry of health and family welfare had predicted demand of 75,000 ventilators by June 2020 itself. Against this, the government healthcare sector only had 19,398 ventilators.
The big turnaround in a matter of months
However, these skeptical forecasts and estimates were not enough to deter the determination and fortitude of the domestic ventilator manufacturers in the country. Taking up the challenge head-on and encouraged further by the government, they got into some sort of a ‘war mode’
pressing on the accelerator to shore up the indigenous manufacturing of the breathing device in a major way. For the government’s part, it already had contracted out to several domestic players for the manufacturing and supply of as many as nearly 60,000 ventilators. A sum of Rs 2,000 crore was also allocated out of the PM Cares Fund for manufacturing 50,000 of these ventilators. This step was also taken with a long-term view to give an impetus to the indigenization of manufacturing of this critical care equipment within the country. And sure enough, the domestic manufacturers did not disappoint and duly rose to the occasion. In a matter of three months, the massive drive saw the country manufacture the estimated 60,000 ventilators. Besides, 1,000 ventilators were also ordered to be imported. As a matter of fact, not only ventilators per se, the manufacturing of several components such as sensors, filters, and valves, among many others, was also ramped up in the country.
Pitching in by non-ventilator manufacturers: became a national enterprise
The exigent need to manufacture ventilators within the country saw not only established ventilator manufacturers pulling up their sleeves but even other industry players joining in the collective effort. From automobile manufacturers to technology companies to public sector organisations and research bodies, everyone contributed in this national effort for raising ventilator production.
Supply eventually outstripped demand
Against the hugely projected shortages of ventilators, soon enough by the middle of the year, the supplies shot up so much against the demand that the authorities even lifted the ban on exports for these lifesaving devices. And the supplies rose for all kinds of ventilators: from invasive to non-invasive to turbine-based to ICU-based to anesthesia to emergency and transport and homecare ventilators.
Even as the vaccines are just around the corner and will most likely finally help humanity stem the onslaught of the pandemic, the importance of ventilators can never be understated. A vast number of patients will require ventilators even post-Covid for other respiratory illnesses. As such, because of the Covid-driven public health exigency, while 2020 might seem like the year of the ventilator, the importance of this godsend device will endure forever.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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