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Sunday, May 09, 2021

Oxygen in short supply, demand for concentrators shoots up

Manufacturers of the device — which generates oxygen from air — in India say they are flooded with orders but have run out of raw material, and have little capacity to scale up production.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai |
Updated: April 25, 2021 7:20:08 am
Maharashtra coronavirus cases, Maharashtra Oxygen, Maharashtra Remdesivir, Maharashtra COVID-19, Maharashtra news, indian expressA man loads an oxygen cylinder into a cab in Mumbai on Saturday. (Express Photo: Pradip Das)

With requirement of medical oxygen exceeding its supply owing to rise in Covid-19 cases in the country, hospitals are turning their attention towards the next best alternative: oxygen concentrators.

Manufacturers of the device — which generates oxygen from air — in India say they are flooded with orders but have run out of raw material, and have little capacity to scale up production.

The fact that the concentrator market is import-dominated with only about half-a-dozen companies manufacturing them in India doesn’t help matters either.

Across India, industry estimates show, 40,000 imported and manufactured oxygen concentrators were annually sold before the pandemic hit. However, now the monthly demand has touched 30,000-40,000 units, said an official of Phillips, one of the largest importers of oxygen concentrators in India. India currently has 52 importers of oxygen concentrators, of which eight are multi-national companies.

BPL Medical Technologies, which sells around 8,000 concentrators annually through import and local production, said their last stock of 2,000 units was exhausted on April 9. “We can only begin production by May 15. Half of my staff is Covid positive and can’t work. We are also waiting for raw material supply. Compressors for oxygen concentrators need to be imported,” said Sunil Khurana, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of BPL.

Khurana said since the market for oxygen concentrators was small until now, not many manufacturers ventured into this business. “If possible, government should rope in Bharat Electronic Limited, like it did last year for ventilators, to scale up production. We can share technology,” he said.

Manufacturers said they are speeding up raw material delivery by opting for air transport instead of sea route, which had lower freight rates.

Dr Rajiv Nath, forum coordinator, Association of Indian Medical Device Industry (AIMED), said since import duty is low, oxygen concentrators are mostly imported. “At 0 to 7.5 percent import duties, it’s not profitable or viable to make it in India. So, most prefer importing, and that is counterproductive now,” he said, adding that the current daily demand of concentrators in India is 1,000-2,000 units.

An official from Phillips said the company is putting in requests at various levels to divert more concentrators towards India. Daniel Mazon, Vice Chairman and Managing Director, Philips Indian Subcontinent, said, “For the current demand of oxygen, we have significantly increased our global production of oxygen concentrators and are making it available in India at the earliest, to help save more lives.”

The increasing demand for concentrators has also pushed up the prices of the device by almost a 100%. In several places, the concentrators are being sold at Rs 80,000-90,000, up from the usual Rs 45,000-50,000. Their monthly rent, too, has increased from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000-20,000.

Other major manufacturers of the device in India are SS Technomed and Oshocorp Global Pvt ltd. However, officials from neither of the companies could be reached for comment.

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