'With a pandemic raging, now is not the time to test the highest prices the market will bear' - Stijn Deborggraeve, Diagnostics Advisor at MSF's Access Campaign'1
It was March 11, 2020 that world got one of the biggest jolt of the century when World Health Organization's Director-General Tedros Adhanom announced that the COVID-19 outbreak, that started in December 2019 in Wuhan city of China, to be a pandemic, cautioning that the WHO has "rung the alarm bell loud and clear." Its almost one month since then and as per the health offices the virus is here to stay with us for a while.
Currently, apart from the threat posed by the pandemic, another challenge that the government must deal with is to ensure critical availability of medical infrastructure like ventilators, drugs etc. to handle the patients, so that the mortality rate remains low.
VENTILATORS BOTTLE NECK & COVID-19
As per medical professionals, the most common and severe complication in patients with COVID-19 is acute hypoxemic respiratory failure or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), requiring oxygen and ventilation therapies.2 This is where ventilators become a vital medical gear in treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Ventilators are the in shortage in India. John Hopkins, Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, and Princeton University, have estimated that the demand for ventilator demand can be as high as 1 million in the country. Current availability in India is estimated to have between 30,000 and 50,000 ventilators. It says the US has about 160,000 and is running short in most places.3
In usual course, the medical system lies exclusively on specialized, proprietary, mass-manufactured ventilators from a small selection of suppliers.4 The vast majority of medical equipment is heavily patented by a few specialty medical firms that sell small volumes because during 'normal' times, a medium-sized hospital only needs a handful. These firms have historically aggressively protected their intellectual monopolies.5 One of the example can be seen from Italy wherein a patent owner of a special respirator valve used in respiratory machines allegedly threatened a patent infringement lawsuit against two engineers who volunteered to use their 3-D printing technology to manufacture the patented valves for a hospital in Brescia, Italy without obtaining permission or a license from the patent holder.
However, the need of the hour is industries come together and fight the pandemic like one and save millions of lives at stake.
INDUSTRIES & INNOVATORS FIGHTING THE BATTLE TOGETHER
Amidst the crisis, there are some companies which are coming ahead and sharing their IP rights with the world or are helping in manufacture of ventilator to curb the shortage and becoming one of the strongest soldiers in the battle against the COVID 19. These companies are listed below:
- Medtronic, a medical device company headquartered in Ireland has publicly shared the design specifications of its Puritan Bennett 560 (PB 560) ventilator amid a global shortage of the devices.6 The company now has PB 560 product and service manuals, design requirement documents, manufacturing documents, and schematics available at com/openventilator. The company says software code and other information will follow shortly.
- Nocca Robotics an Indian startup which makes water-less robots that clean solar plants is racing against the time to develop an invasive ventilator that will cost INR 50,000 ($662). By 7 April, they plan to be ready with machines that can be tested on patients after approvals.7
- AgVa Healthcare, a Noida-based startup which builts cost-effective portable ventilator, is lending a hand to overcome the shortage of ventilators by ramping up the production and supply. In an interview to a daily, Diwakar Vaish, co-founder, AgVa Healthcare stated that "We are working to manufacture 20,000 units in the next 30 days".8
- Pankaj Gupta, founder of EthAum Venture Partners, working with more than 200 volunteers (including several IIT, NIT, BITS alumni) towards solving the problem of shortage of ventilators. He started the initiative titled 'COVID India Initiative' has been testing a tiny device that can fit into the human palm to optimise the use of ventilators, in times of emergency.9
- Maruti Suzuki, a carmaker giant based in India, announced that it will help scale up the production of ventilators in the country. Maruti Suzuki said it will manufacture 10,000 ventilators in collaboration with AgVA Healthcare, an approved manufacturer of ventilators.10
- UK engineering company Smiths Group is making the IP covering one of its ventilators available to other manufacturers, as part of an industry attempt to tackle the shortage of life-saving equipment.11
- Mahindra Group Chairman, Anand Mahindra, has also announced that Mahindra & Mahindra is working with an indigenous maker of ICU ventilators.12
- Some leading Indian industrialists, including a major medical device-making company, have offered their factories to manufacture the machines. The plan is to make 30,000 ventilators, at around 150-200 a day, by the middle of May.13
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1. https://www.msfindia.in/covid-19-msf-c alls-for-no-patents-or-profiteering-on-covid-19-drugs-tests-and-vaccines/
5. Boldrin M, Levine DK: Against intellectual monopoly. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2008; Pagano U: The crisis of intellectual monopoly capitalism. Cambridge J Econ. 2014
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