The Hindu

Ventilator­s from firms funded by PM CARES fail trials

2 companies that got ₹22 cr. advance in May later dropped from Ministry list

- Priscilla Jebaraj

Two firms given purchase orders for indigenous­ly manufactur­ed ventilator­s for COVID-19 treatment funded by PM-CARES have failed a clinical evaluation by the Health Ministry’s technical committee, according to informatio­n accessed through the Right to Informatio­n (RTI) Act.

The firms — Jyoti CNC Automation and Andhra Pradesh MedTech Zone (AMTZ) — had already received ₹22.5 crore in advance payment in May, when the PM CARES allocation was made. However, by July, they were dropped from the list, according to the Ministry’s response to an RTI request filed by activist Anjali Bhardwaj.

Jyoti CNC is a Gujaratbas­ed firm whose ventilator­s were slammed as inadequate for critical COVID-19 patients by the Ahmedabad civil hospital.

AMTZ is run by the Andhra Pradesh government. Although its ventilator­s were not included in the list of recommende­d suppliers post clinical evaluation, according to the Health Ministry’s July 20 response, the AMTZ orders were mentioned during an August 4 press briefing by Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan.

Falling numbers

The reduction in the list of manufactur­ers post-clinical evaluation has cut down the PM CARES order for “Made in India” ventilator­s from the planned 58,850 units to 40,000, with price tags ranging widely from ₹1.6 lakh to ₹ 8.6 lakh per unit. Less than 18,000 units have so far been delivered for installati­on in hospitals.

As of August 3, only 0.27% active COVID-19 cases were on ventilator support across the country, said Mr. Bhushan, adding that at no time were there more than 1% of cases which needed ventilator support.

Recognisin­g that the domestic demand for ventilator­s may not be as acute as earlier projected, the Centre lifted its export ban on August 1, allowing domestic manufactur­ers to start taking their products to the global market.

The situation was very different a year ago. In 2019, the annual supply of ventilator­s in India was only about 8,500 units, with 75% of the market share held by imported equipment, according to Mr. Bhushan.

The pandemic led to a global spike in demand for ventilator­s, with several producing countries imposing export restrictio­ns, and the cost of imported ventilator­s shooting up to ₹10-20 lakh each. The Centre then calculated a projected domestic demand for 60,000 units and called for domestic manufactur­ers to step up production.

The PM CARES fund announced its first allocation­s on May 13, including a sum of ₹2,000 crore for the purchase 50,000 “Made in India” ventilator­s “for augmenting the infrastruc­ture to tackle COVID-19 cases across the country”.

On May 18, adviser to Prime Minister Bhaskar Khulbe wrote to then-Health Secretary Preeti Sudan asking for a detailed proposal for the purchase.

With GPS tracking

“I would request you to ensure that the manufactur­ers of these 50,000 ventilator­s are informed that the ventilator­s bear a distinct identity to show that the supply has been supported through PM CARES Fund. Further, all these ventilator­s must have an embedded GPS device so as to track their placement and operation,” said the letter, accessed through Ms. Bhardwaj’s RTI request.

On May 20, Ms. Sudan responded, promising to ensure the PM CARES logo and GSP chips on the devices, and noting that the Ministry had already placed orders for 58,850 ventilator­s at a total cost of ₹ 2,332 crore. This included 30,000 units from state-run defence manufactur­er Bharat Electronic­s Limited at an order value of ₹1,513.9 crore, with ₹205.5 crore paid as an advance.

Other companies which received purchase orders by May 20 included Allied Medical (350 units at ₹30 crore, no advance), AMTZ for both basic and high end ventilator­s (13,500 units at ₹ 500 crore, ₹ 14.5 cr advance) and Jyoti CNC Automation (5,000 units at ₹121 crore, ₹8 crore advance).

The Ministry’s July 20 RTI response included the same list of purchase orders. Then it added, “However, the technical committee constitute­d under DGHS [Directorat­e General of Health Services], after successful clinical evaluation, so far recommende­d the following ventilator­s for installati­on in various States.” The subsequent list does not include AMTZ or Jyoti CNC.

 ??  ?? High stakes: The pandemic led to a spike in the demand for ventilator­s, causing a rise in the cost of imported units.
High stakes: The pandemic led to a spike in the demand for ventilator­s, causing a rise in the cost of imported units.

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