COVID-19 pandemic-hit India is going through an acute shortage of oxygen. Efforts are on to import oxygen concentrators to meet demand and save lives. But a stark reality is that the country lacks enough manufacturers of this critical medical equipment and is now dependent on imports, sources told BusinessToday.In.
Low import duty of 10% made local manufacturing unviable for domestic manufacturers, resulting in a free flow of imports of concentrators, particularly from China. As an emergency measure, Centre removed this duty also 2 days ago to allow un-interrupted imports until the situation improves.
Additionally, on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sanctioned the procurement of 1 lakh portable oxygen concentrators from the PM Cares Fund. The decision was taken at a high-level meeting chaired by PM Modi to discuss the measures needed to improve Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) Supply for COVID management. These concentrators will be procured at the earliest and provided in states with high case burden.
"It is like thermometers and pulse oximeters, as such products attract a customs duty of nil to 7.5 per cent. It is more viable to import and assemble in India or import finished products from countries like China," says Rajiv Nath, Forum Coordinator, the Association of Indian Medical Device Industry (AIMED).
At present there are only three Indian manufacturers registered with AIMED - BPL Medical, SS Technomed and Oshocorp Global. Sources say there are 50 plus small and medium traders dealing in import of oxygen concentrators, mainly from countries like China.
India's annual demand for oxygen concentrators was only 30,000 to 40,000 units a year and imports were catering to all of that. The market is dominated by multinational Philips. Popular home use concentrator brands are Philips Respironics Everflo, Oxymed Mini, Airsep Visionaire, Nidek Nuvo Lite and DeVilbiss. Such oxygen concentrators can supply 5-10 liters of oxygen per minute and are suited for moderately ill patients and home use. While these are available in e-commerce platforms and other medical outlets, it is hard to source from these channels due to the demand. Prices have also shot up from Rs 40,000 to 3-4 times and the government is yet to regulate prices, say sources.
"We have absolutely zero stock and are not able to import. People are calling desperately. We have some 450 units lying in our factory, but we are short of raw material due to lockdown (in Delhi)," said Naveen Sharma, owner of SS Technomed, one of the Indian manufacturers. He said SS Medtech started manufacturing oxygen concentrators recently because of the rising demand, though it was in this field for more than two decades and were manufacturing air compressors. "Obviously we have most of the components. There are a few things we need to put into a concentrator, but we are not able to source it. The problem is with supplies. China has stopped container movement from the mainland for the last two days. Now we are moving things from Hong Kong, where charges are high," he said.
Meanwhile, India is getting emergency imports from various countries. Air India has already begun airlifting 10,636 oxygen concentrators from the US medical devices manufacturer Philips. Ireland has agreed to send over 700 oxygen concentrators, and the UK 495 oxygen concentrators. Five containers of liquid medical oxygen sufficient for 10,000 people a day will be sent from France. India's Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) is importing 23 medical oxygen plants from Germany besides a mobile oxygen production unit, the WHO is providing 4,000 oxygen concentrators, Saudi Arabia is sending 80 MT of liquid oxygen, 800 oxygen concentrators from Hong Kong and about ten cryogenic tanks and containers are coming from Thailand and UAE.
A community of Gurgaon based startup entrepreneurs has launched 'Mission Oxygen' to support Delhi and National Capital Region hospitals with oxygen. While the program initially started with a target of raising Rs 2.5 crore to procure 500 units, an overwhelming response from more than 10,000 global donors has allowed it to raise more than Rs 10 crore so far. The target funding is now set at Rs 20 crore to procure at least 3,000 OCs and has brought on board logistics partners such as Spicejet, DHL, Flexiport and Delhivery, to deliver the first shipment of 500 OCs by this week and remaining 800 by next week, said Varun Aggarwal, Founder, Designhill. The initiative has been started by Democracy People Foundation and is being driven by Snehil Khanor of TrulyMadly, Mansha Kaur of Heart On My Sleeve, Hubhopper founder Gautam Raj Anand, Rahul Agarwal and Varun Agarwal of Designhill, Rahul Hari of Satvacart, Uday Anand of Mycrushfit, Gautam Ghai of Sourcefuse, Cuttlfish founder Shikher Gupta are among others.
They say a team of 250 entrepreneurs out of Gurgaon are working across procurement, shipment and distribution, besides 40-50 people on ground in China across Hong Kong, Shenzen, Shanghai, Guanghzao, Beijing to directly procure from all CE, ISO and/or FDA approved vendors. All machines are 10L and above with 93%+ air purity with 220V power. As many as 1,365 concentrators have been sourced from seven factories.