Covid-19: Oxygen shortage prompts search for $ 1,000 machines | India News
A man carries an oxygen concentrating machine for a Covid-19 coronavirus patient, in Delhi
NEW DELHI: Raphael Koch, a medical device retailer in the small Swiss town of Wil, has been busy for the past two weeks answering a series of phone calls. Most are from Indians or India-based companies looking for oxygen concentrators, and some even want up to 500 at a time.
But Koch’s Oxymed store barely stocks the little-known machines that separate critical gas from the air and help patients with low blood oxygen levels. And you don’t expect fresh supplies from manufacturers until at least mid-June.
“They’re desperate,” he said, referring to the people he’s been talking to lately. “They tell me of relatives who die in the streets, that there is no space in the hospitals and that the few oxygen concentrators that are still available are sold up to 10 times the normal price.”
After a new variant of the coronavirus unleashed a brutal wave of infections in India, claiming thousands of lives and sending millions to crowded and ill-equipped hospitals, demand skyrocketed for the device. When healthcare facilities are running out of oxygen tanks and beds, the portable machine is increasingly becoming a line of defense for those seeking to avoid breathing difficulties while recovering at home.
India has reported more than 300,000 infections a day for 21 consecutive days, highlighting the country’s slide into the world’s worst health crisis. One research model predicts that deaths could quadruple to 1,018,879 from the current official tally of nearly 254,200. Just as some countries needed fans in large numbers last year, India is now desperately seeking oxygen concentrators and supplies.
The latest outbreak has seen oxygen requirements in Indian hospitals skyrocket tenfold, according to Abhinav Mathur, founder of the Million Sparks Foundation, which is part of efforts in Delhi to import the devices and donate them to healthcare facilities. Hubs are covering a small part of this increase, he said.
Undoubtedly, oxygen concentrators are useful only for those who do not require intensive care. The machines deliver around five to 10 liters of gas per minute, usually with a purity of about 93%, while those fighting Covid in hospitals may need up to 60 liters per minute, which can only be filled with tanks. of liquid oxygen.
Data tracked by the Indian Council for Medical Research between August 2020 and April 2021 shows that nearly 48% of hospitalized patients this year reported shortness of breath, compared to around 42% last year. Oxygen utilization jumped to 55% in the second wave, from 41% in the first.
India needs up to 200,000 oxygen concentrators to meet current demand, or five times pre-pandemic levels, Mathur said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said on May 10 that it distributed 6,738 of them from the pool of foreign aid it received in recent weeks, underscoring insufficient supplies and donations from countries ranging from the United States to China to Switzerland.
Distressed families are looking to get hold of the device, which could bring in a pullback of up to $ 1,000, or roughly half of India’s per capita gross domestic product, from wherever they can. The cost is an additional burden for some Indians facing reduced income after losing businesses and jobs due to closures. A Pew Research Center study showed that an estimated 75 million people have fallen into poverty in India since the outbreak began.
Some of the biggest manufacturers, including Royal Philips NV, are stepping in to help. The company has “significantly increased its global production and is making these products available in India to help save more lives,” Philips said in an emailed statement, declining to elaborate.
Chinese manufacturer Jiangsu Yuyue Medical Equipment & Supply Co said in an investor call in April that “orders from India continue to grow.” The Nanjing-based company said its daily production capacity of 4,000 units is enough to deliver orders totaling 18,000 pieces. The company’s shares have risen 15% last month in Shenzhen, compared with a 1.6% rise in the Shenzhen Stock Exchange Composite Index.
Koch’s Oxymed website lists several oxygen concentrators. The Philips EverFlo, for example, costs 1,550 Swiss francs ($ 1,715). Other devices have price tags ranging from 1,250 to 4,850 francs.
Models imported from China may be more affordable at Rs 25,000, but due to high demand and rising prices, some in Delhi are paying Rs 80,000 for a part. Indian low-cost carrier SpiceJet Ltd. said it has flown more than 27,000 oxygen concentrators from the US, Hong Kong, mainland China and Singapore.
Until recently, the federal government of India used to impose an import duty of up to 20.4% on oxygenators, but the levies were temporarily lifted in the first week of May after bureaucracy prevented equipment and medicines from that save lives reach those in need.
An aid fund set up by the prime minister last year is scheduled to order 150,000 units of an oxygen supply system developed by India’s Defense Research and Development Organization, the government said on Wednesday.
Demand for these oxygen concentrators is likely to increase further, said Mathur of the Million Sparks Foundation. Home care, government-run facilities that add more beds, and hotels that become Covid care centers will drive demand, he said.
“The next big concern is that the pandemic is clearly moving to semi-urban and rural areas,” he said. “The government should start planning to improve oxygen availability in these areas to be ready to respond.”
Meanwhile, in a small town about 20 miles east of Zurich, Dino Vivarelli runs MediCur AG, a retailer specializing in everything related to oxygen, from therapies to air purifiers. He has never done business outside of Switzerland.
But after the Indian embassy contacted him about two weeks ago for large amounts of liquid oxygen, Vivarelli said he has been receiving inquiries from charities and the Indian diaspora in Switzerland and Germany. Until recently, he said he used to be able to order oxygen concentrators by the dozen by email and have them delivered the next day.
“Those days are over,” he said by phone. “It started with a one week delay. Now we are in about a month. ”