COVID-19 outbreak: Amid equipment shortage, a curious case of imported used ventilators
New Delhi: At a time when the world is struggling to get ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients, 200 such equipment are lying at Chennai port but they are ‘second-hand’ or ‘used’ ones and come under the ‘hazardous’ category.
Import of such used equipment is prohibited under hazardous waste management rules of the Ministry of Environment and Forest.
Chennai-based company Skylark Office Machines imported these ventilators in November 2018 from a US-based firm, according to sources.
The customs authorities confiscated the consignment and imposed penalty on it. But, the importer approached the Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT), which set aside the penalties but, however, asked the company to re-export the goods back to the US, they said.
Things took a turn as the central government banned exports of all kinds of ventilators during the last week of March amid the coronavirus outbreak.
After this decision, it was impossible for the company to re-export the consignment.
The firm sent a communication to the Chennai office of the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) seeking clearance of the consignment as a “special case” to enable use of those ventilators at government medical institution, Tamil Nadu, for tackling the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We appeal to you that the policy condition may be relaxed to cover clearance of these goods already imported by us as a very special case to enable us to supply to Government of Tamil Nadu through Tamilnadu Medical Services Corporation Ltd (a fully-owned Tamil Nadu government company) for use in the government medical institution in Tamil Nadu for tackling COVID-19 patients,” according to the communication of the company, dated March 31, accessed by PTI.
Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation in a communication date March 31 to Chennai DGFT also sought clearance of the consignment.
The Corporation had appealed the DGFT that the policy condition be relaxed to cover clearance of these goods so that it can be used to treat COVID-19 patients.
On April 4, the DGFT finally gave the approval after getting clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forest.
The Directorate has also written to the chief secretary and health secretary of Tamil Nadu to check the specifications, standards, quality and safety of these used/old ventilators.
Skylark Office Machine owner Rohit Jhunjhunwala did not respond to the repeated calls and messages sent to him to get his comments on the matter.
Some of the major suppliers in the country have stated that they have acute shortage of ventilators amid the increasing demand worldwide due to the coronavirus outbreak.
According to reports, there are over 30,000 ventilators in India.
Health experts have said that only few patients require critical care as they go on respiratory failure and need to be put on ventilators, while the rest are recovering with supportive treatment.
According to Mumbai-based doctor Sachin Ramteke, few specific cases need ventilators and not all patients.
About the number of these equipment, he said that normally, a 100-bed hospital would keep ventilators for 10-20 beds in ICU but now, as the number of patients are increasing, hospitals are facing shortage of these equipment.