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.

A 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 the goods. But, the importer approached the Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT) which set aside the orders of the customs authorities and allowed the company to re-export the goods back to the US, they said.

Things took 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, 2020, accessed by .

On this, Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation in a communication date March 31 to Chennai DGFT sought clearance of the consignment of used ventilators imported by Skylark Office Machines.

The Corporation appealed that the policy condition may be relaxed to cover clearance of these goods so that it can be used to treat COVID-19 patients.

DGFT headquarters at the national capital has finally given the approval on April 4 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 before using that in hospitals to treat the patients.

Skylark Office Machine owner Rohit Jhunjhunwala did not responded to the repeated calls and even to 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 in view of the increasing demand worldwide amid the coronavirus outbreak.

According to some reports, there is an over 30,000 ventilators in India with every state having a varying number.

Health experts have said only few of the total affected patients require critical care as they go on respiratory failure and need to put on ventilators while rest recover 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.

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