The second wave of coronavirus has hit India with an acute shortage of oxygen supply. Several efforts are being made to increase the supply of oxygen to hospitals to meet the demand and save lives.
Relatives and friends of patients have been frantically looking for oxygen concentrators to offer some respite to ailing COVID-19 patients. But with reliance on few manufacturers of this critical medical equipment in India, dealers are forced to depend on imports from China.
A low import duty of 10 percent has been scrapped by the Centre to allow un-interrupted imports until the situation improves.
Currently, there only three Indian oxygen manufacturers registered with Association of Indian Medical Device Industry (AIMED) – BPL Medical, SS Technomed and Oshocorp Global, while there are over 50 small and medium traders dealing in import of oxygen concentrators, mainly from countries like China.
What's The Catch?
While the imported oxygen concentrators from China are priced four to five times lesser than those sold by Indian manufacturers, the problem lies in maintaining the oxygen purity levels of these concentrators.
Speaking to The Quint, biomedical engineer and founder of Oxygen Times, Pranav Kaistha said that some of these Chinese products, namely Dedajk (1-6L), Yobekar (2-9L) and Mystique (1-7L), have purity levels that vary from 30 percent to 90 percent.
The purity varies as these machines 'blend room air' when you increase the flow by 1 litre per minute (LPM) .
“For instance, if these machines give oxygen purity of 90 percent at 1 LPM, it will give only 80 percent at 2 LPM, and when the flow rate increases to 5 LPM the oxygen purity of these concentrators further drops to 30 percent,” Kaistha explained.
Are Chinese Companies Deceiving You?
Sunil Khurana, Managing Director and CEO of BPL Medical Technologies told The Quint that India's annual demand for oxygen concentrators was only 40,000 units a year and imports were catering to all of that.
But the sudden surge in the demand for concentrators has burdened Indian manufacturers with a supply target they can't keep up with. Not just that, "the price difference is an important factor due to which more and more Indians are buying Chinese concentrators," he added.
Khurana noted that ‘not all Chinese products are bad’, but taking advantage of the current ongoing situation many such products are being sold in the market.
Physician Dr Rajesh Deshpandey, too, believes that there are 'good' Chinese oxygen concentrators in the market. "Before buying any concentrators, please look for its technical specifications . There are some good Chinese concentrators as well, it is a matter of what you buy and where you buy it from. Please seek the advice of a medical doctor before investing into any such devices," he said.
But Khurana points out that a majority of the Chinese concentrators are not tested before being sold for use.
“Most of the Chinese concentrators in the market are not even certified and tested. Some of these products have even started using our logo and are being sold as BPL products. The dire need of oxygen supply has created utter chaos.”Sunil Khurana, Managing Director, CEO of BPL Technologies
Should These Concentrators Be Used for Treating COVID Patients?
Rajiv Nath, Forum Coordinator, AIMED, told The Quint that these “shoddy products which are currently being dumped in India due to zero regulations by the Indian government should absolutely not be used”.
According to a guideline issued by World Health Organisation (WHO), for mild and moderate COVID patients, 85 percent oxygen purity has to be maintained by the oxygen concentrator. Anything less than that can be fatal.
The Quint spoke to a few dealers to understand if they knew about Chinese concentrators dropping oxygen purity levels drastically.
Aditya Deshmukh, an oxygen concentrator dealer based in Pune, is of the view that Chinese products are the best as they are affordable and maintain oxygen purity. When asked about concentrators that drop purity levels to 30 percent, Deshmukh owned up to selling it despite having the knowledge, stating, "most people buy these Chinese concentrators, as they are cheaper than Indian products."
Another dealer based in Pune, Javed Sheikh said that Chinese concentrators come handy in treating COVID patients who are in dire need of it. He, however, denied having any knowledge of purity levels in these concentrators, adding, "All concentrators function the same, only the capacity varies, purity is nothing to be concerned about."
Check This Before Buying Any Concentrator
Here are a few things to keep in mind before buying a concentrator, explains Pranav Kaistha, Founder of Oxygen times.
- As per CDC guidelines, if the oxygen level of a COVID patient is less than 90, it is recommended that the patient seeks oxygen support.
- The capacity of the oxygen concentrator must be higher than your requirement. For example, if you require a 3.5 litre per minute (LPM) oxygen concentrator, you should buy a 5 LPM concentrator.
- Similarly, if your requirement is 5 LPM concentrator, you should purchase an 8 LPM machine.
- Always look for a concentrator with an oxygen purity indicator (OPI). These indicators show the purity of oxygen in air.
“Purity of 90 percent at all flow rates is a must, and it should not drop more than 5 percent, even if you increase the flow,” Kaistha said.