Hyderabad, March 30 : Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad Director Prof. B.S. Murty has mooted the idea of using a ‘bag valve mask’ as an alternative to ventilators to meet any surge in demand, both in India and other countries, to treat COVID-19 patients.
While the conventional ventilators are expensive, hard to produce, and not portable, bag valve masks are small devices, which are used to deliver breathing support in emergency situations that are inexpensive, easy to produce and portable, said Prof. B.S. Murty, Director, IIT Hyderabad and Prof. V. Eswaran, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, IIT Hyderabad.
A bag valve mask, often called ‘Ambu Bag’ is used for resuscitation in emergency situations.
The professors note that while ‘bag valve masks’ are currently hand-powered and therefore not suitable for continuous use as a ventilator, it would be easy to design a similar device powered by an electrical source, which could be a car battery, apart from the conventional power supply. It could be made portable, and therefore adopted in villages and other areas without power supply and be inexpensive enough to manufacture in bulk.
They estimate that it can be manufactured for less than Rs 5000, or one-hundredth the cost of a conventional machine.
“The cost of manufacturing 6 million of these devices will be probably less than that of the inadequate number of 60,000 conventional machines. The cost is so low that it can be considered a single-use device that will be given over to single patient, and never used again. It needs to be manufactured, however, on an industrial scale, in millions, within a short time of a few months. There have been several designs proposed within India itself, with IIT Hyderabad having at least one proposed design,” they said.
They proposed that the government constitute a task force, which will carry out the tasks needed to start the production of low-cost ventilators within a maximum time-frame of two months.
The most sophisticated computer-controlled ventilators cost around Rs. 40 lakh while more modest foreign-made ones cost around Rs. 15 lakh with Indian-made ventilators costing around Rs. 6 lakh.
It is estimated that there are around 40,000 ventilators in India at present, mostly in the private hospitals. The Indian industry has a maximum manufacturing capacity of approximately 6,000 units per month, but even the Indian-made devices use a lot of foreign-made parts whose availability would now be uncertain, when every country would be maximizing their own ventilator production.
The professors said that assuming a low 6 per cent infection rate, in case COVID-19 continues to spread in India, in the Indian population of 1.3 billion, that would mean that around 80 million people would get affected. “Of these 80 million, at least 5 per cent (4 million patients) would require ventilators. Each of these 4 million patients would need the ventilators for around 21 days, thereby blocking that machine for at least that amount of time.”
Further, the machines are not portable and are found only in high-end hospitals in large cities, so patients from villages would need to be transported to these cities, which would be a logistics problem of unimaginable complexity. It is quite clear that even a mild 6 per cent Stage-3 would overwhelm the country’s capacity to a devastating degree. Even if the Indian industry was at peak production, it could manufacture only another 60,000 machines in the next 10 months, at a cost of Rs. 3,600 crore.