During World War II, Germany converted the recently formed Volkswagen into a company that made vehicles for the military at its factories. In times of similar exigency, Indian automobile majors Maruti Suzuki and Mahindra and Mahindra are gearing up to produce ventilators to help the government fight against the Coronavirus pandemic in India.
Mahindra and Mahindra is first off the block. Pawan Goenka, the managing director of the company's automotive division on Thursday tweeted that the company has embarked on a two pronged strategy to produce ventilators at its factories. "At one end, we along with two large PSUs are working with an existing manufacturer of high spec ventilators to help them to simplify design and scale up capacity. Our engineering team is right now with them working on it," his tweet read.
"At other end we are working on an automated version of the Bag Valve Mask ventilator (commonly known as Ambu bag). We hope to have a Proto ready in 3 days for approval. Once proven this design will be made available to all for manufacturing." This follows group patriarch Anand Mahindra's tweets on March 22 itself offering help in the fight against Coronavirus.
"Going by various reports from epidemiologists, it is highly likely that India is already in Stage 3 of transmission. Cases could rise exponentially with millions of casualties, putting a huge strain on medical infrastructure. A lockdown over the next few weeks will help flatten the curve & moderate the peak pressure on medical care. However, we need to create scores of temporary hospitals & we have a scarcity of ventilators," he had tweeted. "To help in the response to this unprecedented threat, we at the Mahindra Group will immediately begin work on how our manufacturing facilities can make ventilators."
The government has also reached out to other companies including market leader Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors and Hyundai to look at ways to manufacture ventilators expeditiously. A ventilator is a mechanical breathing device that can blow air and oxygen into the lungs and are critical in the treatment of of people with lung failure, a complication suffered by patients with severe COVID-19. It costs anywhere between Rs 5-12 lakh. Currently India imports around 80-85 percent of all medical devices for intensive care, including ventilators.
"The govt anticipates a need for a much larger number of ventilators. They have approached us about the possibility of making ventilators in house," said R C Bhargava, chairman, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd to a TV channel on Wednesday. "A number of our teams are looking at the possibility. We will come up with an answer in a day or two. We have very limited time."
Though the number of Covid 19 infected cases in India are relatively low compared to other parts of the world, the risk of it spreading here remains high. This could put a strain on the medical infrastructure of the country and the shortage of ventilators in the country could get woefully exposed. According to a Brookings report, if the number of cases spiral in India, it may need as many as 110,000-220,000 ventilators as early as mid May. It estimated the number of ventilators today in the country at a maximum 57,000.
"An estimated 5-10% of total patients will require critical care in form of ventilator support. In a worst-case scenario, according to one estimate at least, we may end up with 2.2 million cases in India by May 15, which implies that we will need 110,000 to 220,000 ventilators. We have no official figures on the number of ventilators available in the public sector, however ,we arrive at an estimated figure using the number of hospital beds available - 7,13,986 total government beds, out of which 5-8 percent are ICU beds (35,699 to 57,119 ICU beds).
Assuming that 50 percent of these ICU beds have ventilators, we arrive at an estimate of 17,850 to 25,556 ventilators in the country. Even in the best-case scenario where all ICU beds are equipped with ventilators, we have a maximum of 57k ventilators to cater to a growing number of COVID-19 patients. Clearly, the growing demand for ventilators is going to outstrip the limited supply really soon," it said.