NEW DELHI: Originally created by a robot scientist and a neurosurgeon to help India’s poor, a toaster-sized ventilator is offering hope in the country’s fight against the coronavirus and demand is booming.
The virus at its most lethal attacks the lungs, making ventilators — which pump breathable air into a patient — critical for hospitals around the world as they are swamped with COVID-19 cases.
With the toll rising in India, where a nationwide lockdown is in force, production of AgVa’s portable ventilator has shot up from 500 a month to 20,000.
“There was no way we could have foreseen something as big as this,” said neurosurgeon Deepak Agrawal, who co-developed the device with robot scientist Diwakar Vaish.
Priced at about $2,000, the AgVa ventilator is a fraction of the cost of conventional ventilators, which go for more than $10,000.
India, like most countries, has a critical shortage of beds and ventilators for its 1.3 billion people. The South Asian nation has so far reported more than 1,600 cases and 38 deaths from COVID-19.
To boost preparedness for a surge in cases, the Indian government has banned the export of coronavirus-linked medical exports, including ventilators.
The AgVa plant near the capital New Delhi has been given permission to work flat out.
The makers say that the AgVa, which weighs just 3.5 kilos, will help move less critical patients back to their homes as their machine is easy to transport and install, and needs low power. “In case you want to convert a hotel into an ICU, you can simply put this device and start working as it doesn’t require other infrastructure,” said Vaish.
Maruti Suzuki, India’s biggest passenger car maker, has pledged to help AgVa ramp up production after the government called on all auto firms to contribute to the anti-coronavirus effort.
“ICU care is very expensive. In the private sector, even the richest of rich can’t afford it for a long time,” said Vaish.