An 85-year-old senior doctor, JK Mishra, at Swarup Rani Nehru Hospital in Prayagraj (UP) lost his life on April 26 after he was unable to find a ventilator bed at the hospital where he had served for 50 years.
In Palanpur town of Banaskantha district of Gujarat, Dr Naresh Shah, 79, died on April 22 as his family members could not find a ventilator bed.
Renowned Hindustani classical vocalist Pt Rajan Mishra died of COVID-19 complications at a hospital in Delhi on April 26. His son claimed that the family had been desperately hunting for a ventilator “but nobody supported us” and by the time the PMO reached out, "he had left us".
Short supply of ventilators during the peak of the second wave of COVID-19 cost numerous lives. But even as patients suffered due to lack of critical life-saving medical equipment, hundreds of machines delivered to various states were lying unused.
Till the end of May, over 5,500 ventilators were gathering dust in storerooms in various states, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has informed in its reply to a query filed by The New Indian Express under the Right of Information (RTI) Act. The reply revealed a substantial gap between the number of ventilators ordered, delivered and installed in hospitals across the country.
As per the reply, the ministry ordered 60,559 ventilators from different manufacturers, of which 46,511 were allocated to states. Rest were for Central government hospitals. According to the ministry, 45,191 ventilators were delivered, of which 39,640 were installed by states till May 25, leaving 5,551 unused.
Unused ventilators pile up: Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat among biggest defaulters
Amid reports of dire paucity of ventilators even as positive cases were recording massive daily spikes during April-May, there were sharp exchanges between the Centre and some Congress-ruled states over shortage as well as faulty machines being delivered.
On April 11, the Union health secretary had written a letter to some states, including Punjab, to act on the ventilators lying idle in their possession. "Noncommissioning of the ventilators defeats the purpose" of fighting the pandemic, he said in his letter to Punjab chief secretary Viny Mahajan.
According to the RTI reply, however, it was BJP-ruled UP, Karnataka and Gujarat where the maximum number of ventilators were lying unutilised. Of the total 5,116 machines delivered to Uttar Pradesh, 4,010 were up and running till May-end while 1,106 were still to be installed.
Gujarat and Karnataka recorded delivery of 5,600 and 2,913 ventilators, of which they installed 4,991 and 2,004, respectively. That means, over 900 ventilators in Karnataka and over 600 in Gujarat were lying idle.
On the contrary, Congress-ruled Punjab and Rajasthan had only 56 and 29 idle ventilators, respectively. Among opposition-ruled states, Jharkhand was the biggest defaulter with only 461 of the total 1,210 ventilators installed.
In Madhya Pradesh, even as patients were in desperate need of ventilator beds, the state government told the high court earlier this month that 204 ventilators were kept in storeroom as "backup". During the peak of the second wave in May, Punjab and Rajasthan governments had alleged that the ventilators supplied to them under PM-CARES were found to be "defective and sub-standard" by hospitals that used them.
There were dozens of reports from other states, including Maharashtra, too, about hundreds of machines lying defunct as they were faulty. In many cases, the devices were unpacked because the hospital lacked trained healthcare professionals to operate them.
Regarding a query on non-functional ventilators or ventilators returned to manufacturers, the health ministry in its RTI said "the information is not available centrally". It disclosed that it had ordered a performance audit after receiving complaints.
"After some reports of ventilators lying unutilised in some States, the ministry ordered to carry out a performance audit of installation/commissioning and operation of ventilators provided by the Centre to States/UTs," said the RTI reply. There was also a huge difference in the prices of ventilators purchased by the government from different companies.
While 30,000 machines were ordered from Bharat Electronics at Rs 5,04,640 per unit, 9,500 units were ordered from AMTZ (Basic) at the rate of Rs 1,66,376 per piece. Allied Medical supplied 350 equipment at Rs 8,62,400 per unit.
About 1,000 ventilators were procured from Sinopharm at Rs 10,89,500 per unit and 771 units were ordered from Hamilton at Rs 10,32,400 per piece while 15 nits purchased from Draeger cost Rs 17 lakh each.