The World Economic Forum cited that in 2019, 77,000 new ventilators were enough to meet the global demand. Flash forward to 2020, with the Covid-19 pandemic in full swing, and the US has estimated that it will need around 960,000 ventilators to help tackle the pandemic there (about 30,000 in New York alone). And in more recent days, the country was recently accused of ‘modern piracy’ after seizing ventilators bound for Barbados. The Barbados government reportedly ordered and paid for 150 ventilators – it only currently has 48 and is among the 203 other countries and territories around the world vying for the vital medical equipment.
The Barbados government reportedly ordered and paid for 150 ventilators – it only currently has 48 and is among the 203 other countries and territories around the world vying for the vital medical equipment
In Canada, which reportedly only has about 5,000 ventilators, the government is putting out an order for 30,000 devices, in addition to the 10,500 they ordered in the last few weeks; the UK has recently revised the number of ventilators it will need and estimates a further 18,000 are now required in contrast to the initial 30,000 – this announcement has received harsh criticism from many believing that this new number does not cover a worst-case scenario; and in Europe, Italy is struggling with a less-than-adequate number of ventilators, France is anticipating shortages, Spain and Turkey fell into a small spat after Madrid officials accused Turkey of withholding the shipment of €3 million worth of ventilators (about 116 ventilators), which Turkey has since released and denied, and Germany ordered 10,000 additional ventilators back in March.
To make matters more difficult, the current climate has unleashed havoc on global supply chains; many countries and regions have restricted the export of goods, including ventilators – the US is among those who have put up trade barriers, not only restricting the movement of vital medical equipment into the country, but also preventing its export.
China is only just starting to emerge from its lockdown, and has since continued the supply of many items of medical equipment to countries in need, however, its vast manufacturing capabilities are often restricted by certification conditions in other countries – a large proportion of China’s manufacturing firms’ operations do not meet the standards of other countries. In addition, China is also having to navigate the many restrictions to travel and trade. But help could come from other areas of the world, and, indeed, other types of manufacturers.
Car manufacturers, for example, are already stepping up to the mark, with a majority of big company names such as Ferrari, Fiat, Ford, General Motors, Tesla and even F1 have begun manufacturing vital components, some striking up inter-industry partnership to do so, and even Rolls Royce are considering weighing in. And it’s worth noting that these automotive traders are still extremely likely to see a massive downturn in profits.
To make matters more difficult, the current climate has unleashed havoc on global supply chains
Defence firms, including Babcock, have also enhanced their operations and are now in the throes of rolling out ventilators. Even the likes of Dyson, a renowned hoover manufacturer, has been able to lend a hand in manufacturing ventilators, with a 10,000-large order soon due in the UK. And Althea in the UK, has put out a call for broken and disused ventilators, which it plans to refurbish and put back into NHS circulation. And there are countless other movements and campaigns like this currently being carried out throughout the world. But still, the global trade restrictions remain in place for these companies too.
To throw yet another spanner into the works, even with adequate numbers of ventilators, ensuring that staff are adequately trained to use some of the more complex array of models remains a challenge. In response, Diving Medical Technicians have surfaced and are being trained to work alongside NHS intensive care nurses in the UK. As these professionals are trained to understand not just the clinical care of the patient, but also to understand and interpret the effects of breathing gas under pressure, the effects of oxygen, and lack of it, and the importance of personal protective equipment and decontamination, their assistance in the Covid-19 response is invaluable.
Michael Von Bertele, a former Director General of the British Army Medical Services and the Humanitarian Director of Save the Children International, commented on this development: “When Max [Dubois of AMDP Ltd] approached me with this idea it immediately struck me that while industry has responded fantastically to produce new ventilators, they are no use without the staff to run them and to care for patients. There are just not enough nurses in the country trained to deliver this care at the scale that is needed. Let’s try to use people with the right technical knowledge and ethos and train them as quickly as possible to carry out the urgent tasks that face us.”
He continued: “We have approached the NHS and colleagues working in the Excel and Birmingham NEC hospitals offering to help, and are now working with them to deliver the training that would enable us to fast-track the employment of these skilled and dedicated people where they are most urgently needed.”
Ian Hughes, another former military colleague of the two men who oversees the training of Diving Medical Technicians with TRAUMA-Training on behalf of the International Marine Contractors Association, is currently working in Madrid helping the Spanish Health Service to train extra staff to help in their response.
Still, with many hospital staff having to take time off themselves to self-isolate or else recover from Covid-19, not to mention the already-strained healthcare situation, it’s clear that more still needs to be done to ensure that the sourcing of adequate ventilators, if successful, doesn’t become a pointless effort.
Indeed, the World Health Organization this week put out an urgent call for more nursing staff, noting that the current Covid-19 crisis is a stark reminder of the vital role that they play. This comes amid WHO having named 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.
Writing for the World Economic Forum in a recent article, Torbjørn Netland, Chair of production and operations management, ETH Zurich, said: “To help all those people, ventilator manufacturers will need the support of a larger, global supply chain. The World Health Organization doesn’t need to commandeer all the ventilation-related manufacturing capacity and transportation, but the world’s most advanced supply chains – UPS, FedEx, DHL, Kuehne + Nagel, Panalpina, Nippon Express, the national post services and even national military procurement arms – should be working together to help ventilator manufacturers and their suppliers meet this single aim. Just as pharmaceutical companies and researchers are working together to produce a vaccine, the world’s top supply chains could pool resources and expertise to make sure these companies get what they need.”