With coronavirus rapidly spreading in the country, leading domestic ventilator manufacturers have already doubled their production capacity within a month's time. They are even creating huge capacities in tie-up with automobile makers like Maruti, Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata Motors, Hyundai India and Pune-based Kalyani Group, said sources.
The main domestic manufacturers of ventilators are Skanray Technologies in Mysore, New Delhi-based AgVa Healthcare, AB Industries of Vadodara, Air Liquid Medical Systems of Chennai, Mumbai-based AVI Healthcare, Ahmedabad-based Life Line Biz, and Thane-based Medion Healthcare. These manufacturers together had made only 2,520 ventilators in February, whereas production in March as of today has doubled to 5,580 units.
The plans are to increase the capacity of manufacturing from the current production capacity of 5,500-5,750 units per month to 50,000 ventilators per month by May end. Skanray Technologies, the leading ventilator manufacturer in the country, has created a consortium with Bharat Electronics (BEL), Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) and Mahindra and Mahindra group to ramp up production from its usual 2,000 units per month to the current capacity of 5,000 units per month, and to 30,000 units per month by end-May. Similarly, AgVa has tied up with Maruti to scale up production from 400 units per month to 4,000 units per month in April and plans are to reach 10,000 units per month by May, sources told Business Today.
"Most of these manufacturers do not have the financial muscle and speed by which these big capacities and production requirements can be met. The big automobile manufacturers can not only help them arrange capital or joint investments, but also can quickly modify or mimic their vehicle assembly lines for huge production of ventilators. A clear picture will emerge this week as various models and plans are being worked out," said Rajiv Nath, Forum Coordinator, the Association of Indian Medical Device Industry (AiMeD), an umbrella association of various Indian medical devices manufacturers.
Even the biggest domestic manufacturers of ventilators in the country do not have a turnover of over Rs 125-150 crore and most are in the Rs 25-30 crore turnover category, industry sources said.
The country might need anywhere between 1.1-2.2 lakh ventilators by May 15 in the worst-case scenario, whereas the number of ventilators today available in the country is 57,000 at best, according to a Brookings report. For instance, Mumbai has only 800 to 1,000 ventilators, while states such as Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh have only 1,500 and 1,800 units, respectively. The city of Bengaluru, has approximately 400 ventilators, whereas Kerala has 5,000. India has reported a total of 1,300 positive coronavirus cases as of March 31 and that means nearly 3 per cent of these patients may require ventilators, as of now.
The plans of the government and the industry are to tackle the shortage of ventilators with development of 2-3 different models. While one will be a low cost respirator model, another will be a high-end ICU model. Another option is to develop multi-patient ventilators. Until the pandemic hits India hard, the ventilators sold in the country had to meet high-end quality benchmarks set by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) or European Union (CE) certification, which made them cost above Rs 10 lakh.
Even the most recent (in March) tenders of Maharashtra and Rajasthan state governments had insisted on the US FDA or CE certification, which made it difficult for local manufacturers to participate in the tenders. Even the Health Ministry's earlier specifications, which have been diluted now, had insisted on high-end quality ventilators which were impractical to mass manufacture at such a short notice, said sources. "These specifications have subsequently been revised and are still under review," they said.
Rajiv Nath said concerted efforts of the various manufacturers of ventilators and other medical equipment, along with help of big auto makers and favourable government policies, can give 'Make in India' a big boost in the medical devices industry.