The coronavirus pandemic crisis is nothing short of a wartime struggle. In Italy and China, death rates spiked when healthcare systems became exhausted. There is no reason to believe this will not happen in India too. India may experience a tragedy that may dwarf Wuhan in death and disease, and the biggest risk may be that multiple cities may be seeded at once. The medical system must keep pace with the need for critical care, while there is still a window to prepare.
In one of the first large-scale studies of the characteristics of the coronavirus in Wuhan, 5 percent of patients required the ICU and 2.3 percent required a ventilator. In India too, the fair grounds and stadia across the country will need to be turned into emergency COVID-19 hospitals and inflatable, make-shift outdoor tents, or prefabricated modules set up. Hospitals will need to be converted into coronavirus care units with specially trained doctors and nurses. Credit goes to Reliance Foundation for setting up India’s first dedicated 100-bedded COVID-19 hospital in Mumbai.
Until a pharmacological treatment can be developed, ventilators are the vital treatment option for the minority of COVID-19 patients, who require critical care. In India, there are fewer than 40,000 ventilators that can be used to care for seriously ill patients. Ventilator makers are under pressure to sharply increase production even as the pandemic has disrupted the transport and supply of crucial parts like hoses, valves, motors, and electronics. Medtronics PLC, Philips NV, Draegerwerk AG, and Getinge AB, among the biggest suppliers of medical ventilators equipment, are working to meet the increased global demand. Whether the added capacity comes fast enough to keep up with the mounting demand, and is sufficient if cases surge, is an important consideration. Hats off to the Mahindra Group for leading the way and announcing its plans to repurpose its facilities to manufacture ventilators. Its overseas counterparts McLaren Group Ltd., Nissan Motor Co., and Rolls Royce in UK; and General Motors, Ford Motors, and Tesla in the US have already committed to devoting resources to manufacture critical health equipment. The new entrants would need significant amounts of design information, machining templates, software, quality assurance, and know-how from the existing manufacturers, and a relaxation of regulatory scrutiny and lengthy manufacturing approval processes from the government. Guidelines aimed at preserving free movement of goods and the integrity of supply chains would need to be issued.
India must not disappoint Michael J Ryan, executive director, World Health Organisation, who believes, India led the world in eradicating two pandemics, smallpox and polio, and could well show the way to the world once again!