The reliability and capability aspects of 10,000 low-cost ventilators, ordered by the Centre under the PM Cares fund, have been questioned by two government-appointed panels, reported HuffPost India on Wednesday.
The Narendra Modi-led administration on Tuesday allocated Rs 2,000 crore from the PM Cares fund towards the supply of 50,000 “Made in India” ventilators to states and Union Territories to fight the coronavirus.
A panel of doctors, in an assessment report on June 1, said that the Centre could purchase the ventilators, made by Indian startup AgVa Healthcare, but they should not be used as a “replacement for high-end ventilators in tertiary care ICUs [intensive care units]”. “There should be a provision for backup ventilator in the facility where these ventilators are used,” the committee said.
The June 1 evaluation report was the second time the company’s ventilators were being reviewed. On May 16, another committee had concluded that AgVa’s equipment needed more “technical validation” before it gains approval. The order for 10,000 AgVa ventilators was placed on March 27.
According to protocol, ventilators from Indian companies would be accepted only after a government panel approved them. In the case of AgVa, the panel’s qualified approval brings into question the reason the central administration is even purchasing these ventilators, especially after the experts’ caveats.
HuffPost India has gone through AgVa’s internal communication, spoken to two former employees of the startup and doctors familiar with the company’s products. The news website said its findings were the same as the concerns raised by the government panel that reviewed AgVa’s equipment.
However, the company has refuted the news website’s conclusions. AgVa cofounder Diwakar Vaish claimed that his ventilators were suitable for tertiary ICUs despite the government panel’s evaluation that points to technical flaws.
Vaish asserted that the company had remedied all the experts’ concerns. “AgVa Ventilators satisfy point by point all essential specifications for a high-end ventilator in tertiary care ICU as drafted by the expert committee and there is no controversy on this point,” he said via email.
He further stated that his company was up against other extremely high-priced ventilators worth over Rs 20 lakh, adding that it did not sit well with the “doctor-vendor nexus which wants to manage status quo of having extremely expensive ventilator care in ICUs.” Following the Centre’s attempt to obtain ventilators in March, carmaker Maruti Suzuki chose to collaborate with AgVa Healthcare from a set of approved ventilator manufacturers that the Centre had shortlisted.
Other medical experts also questioned the efficacy of AgVa’s ventilators and said that providing backups for their equipment would be difficult. “There is already a shortage,” said Dr Anant Bhan, former president of the Internal Association of Bioethics and a physician. “So if you are procuring this for the public sector, one needs to ask what is the function these ventilators are performing.”
Meanwhile, only 6% of the total 50,000 local ventilators under PM Cares fund have been manufactured so far as the country scrambles to increase its count of ventilators amid rising coronavirus cases, reported The Indian Express. NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant and Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade Secretary Guruprasad Mohapatra, among other top officials acknowledged this challenge during a government-industry event on June 11. Principal Scientific Advisor D Vijayaraghavan also attended it.
India on Wednesday morning recorded 15,968 new coronavirus cases, taking the overall tally to 4,56,183, according to the Union health ministry’s update. The toll rose to 14,476 with 465 new deaths.