Countries around the world are racing to fill the unprecedented shortage of ventilators instigated by skyrocketing numbers of coronavirus cases. Caught off guard, many countries are turning to tech companies for speedy production as time races against lives.
In the UK, the government has turned to Dyson and Gtech as all options for quick response to the distress call have been exhausted. The two companies build vacuums and other motor-related airflow gadgets, and are banking on their experience to build ventilator hardware.
Dyson has gone to work in partnership with The Technology partnership (TTP) to deliver safe ventilators according to the approval of UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The ultimate goal is to build a ventilator hardware that will be approved for hospitals around the world. Named CoVent, Dyson said he can’t wait to produce enough as the technology required for the production is already in place.
“I am proud of what Dyson engineers and our partners at TTP have achieved. I am eager to see this new device in production and in hospitals as soon as possible. This is clearly a time of grave international crisis, I will therefore donate 5,000 units to the international effort, 1,000 of which will go to the United Kingdom,” he said.
Gtech, another home appliance and vacuum maker has also been approached to build up 30,000 ventilators according to the company’s owner Nick Grey.
In the United States, the government is turning to automakers for help. On Friday, president Trump said he was invoking the Defense production Act to make General Motors (GM) accept federal contracts to produce ventilators.
The U.S. has been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, creating an emergency crisis in the health sector that requires drastic measures. The country has recorded a high number of deaths and the federal government is afraid that the toll could reach 100,000 in coming weeks. One of the factors yielding increase in the death of the patients is insufficient ventilators at the hospitals.
New York is the most affected state in America and Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state needs “astronomical number of ventilators” to care for the number of patients in the hospitals.
The United States has about 160,000 ventilators, and going by the rising number of confirmed cases, much more ventilators will be needed. The John Hopkins Center for Health security put the number at 740,000.
Five automakers in the U.S. GM, Ford, Toyota and Tesla have pledged to help. They said they will be teaming up with existing ventilator makers to pace the production up.
Italy and Spain and France are other countries in dire need of ventilators as the virus throws their health systems off balance. With over 13,155 deaths in Italy, 9,0353 in Spain and 3,523 in France, health facilities are crying out for help to reduce the number of fatalities climbing daily as a result of the overwhelming number of infected persons who need ventilators.
In Nigeria, the indigenous automaker, Innoson Motors has pledged to produce ventilators as cases keep rising daily. Nigeria is said to have about 400 ventilators which are quite insignificant for a country of 200 million people. It would aggravate its already bad situation if the push comes to shove. Though health authorities said that none of the 151 cases recorded so far in Nigeria has needed ventilators.
But making ventilators is not as easy as building a new model of a car; it requires more expertise and circumspection. The CEO of Hamilton Medical, a ventilator making company, Bob Hamilton said there is more to it than the government knows.
“It is not a question of throwing enough money and people at the issue,” he said.
It is believed that the required expertise in building ventilators is exclusive to those in the medical field and may require their supervision; if at all the automakers will try to get it right.
Ventilators come in different sizes, shapes and capacity, some being more complex than others. And so is the cost and function. The most critical coronavirus patient (stiffen lungs) may require a high spec ventilator that costs about $50,000, and a patient whose case is less serious may not need such a high-end machine.
So each of the machines is tailored to a particular need of a patient and requires a highly trained professional to operate it.
That makes the production difficult and the business is better left to traditional ventilator producers. Vafa Jamali, vice president at Medtronic said the production of ventilators is too complex for so many companies to get into its mass production.
“Because this is a lifesaving device, it can be off. Practice and experience making the parts is really, really critical,” he said. It means that experts, epidemiologists who are well versed in pandemics should be allowed to produce ventilators. The Industry veterans know their fields better than car manufacturers. The fear is that mass produced ventilators by automakers may end up killing more people than the disease it is designed to fight.