New Delhi: The Modi government is likely to soon allow exports of personal protective equipment (PPE) kits and ventilators, two crucial components in the battle against coronavirus, ThePrint has learnt.
Over the past few months, since Covid-19 was first identified as a strengthening threat, the Modi government has ramped up India’s capacities to manufacture PPE kits and ventilators in collaboration with private players. According to government data, India is currently churning out an estimated 6 lakh personal protective equipment (PPE) kits and around 1,000 ventilators daily.
According to two sources, the government is now working on a proposal to allow manufacturers to export surplus equipment after the domestic demand has been taken into account.
“The PPE kit-makers have informed us that they are getting demand orders from several nations, including the US, the UK, Nigeria, Germany, Spain, Russia and Uganda,” a senior health ministry officer said.
“Several ministries, including those of commerce and health, and the Empowered Group III are involved in drafting the proposal to allow exports,” the officer added.
Empowered Group III is one of the high-level panels set up by the government to bolster its response against the pandemic.
Launched by an order of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the group holds the mandate of ensuring the availability of essential medical equipment such as PPE, masks, gloves and ventilators, and oversees each aspect in this regard, from production and procurement to import and distribution.
‘A growing list of exports’
Before February, India just had 20 PPE manufacturers, but the number has now risen to over 600. Similarly, for ventilators, the number has grown to over 50 from eight before February.
The indigenous production of these products is being led by Empowered Group III under ‘Make in India’, a pet initiative of the Modi government to boost domestic manufacturing.
The group includes top officers from the ministries of textiles, external affairs, home affairs, and health & family welfare, besides officers of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, the Defence Research and Development Organisation, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Cabinet Secretariat.
As of now, Indian exports with regard to Covid-19 primarily comprise hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol. While the former is being explored as a treatment, the latter has been used to address Covid-19 symptoms such as fever and body aches.
The two sources quoted above said the list will keep growing longer as India starts gaining self-sufficiency in the production of different Covid-19-related equipment.
“We have suggested that the export of PPE should be allowed first, followed by ventilators, masks and later RT-PCR (testing) kits, along with the reagents and swabs (both are components used in the testing process), among other products,” said the second source, who is part of the empowered committee.
However, the officer said exports “will only be allowed after considering the domestic demand and availability”. “The export could be restricted any moment, if India faces higher requirements,” the officer added.
Orders start arriving
In May, the empowered committee had identified local manufacturers of ventilators and placed orders.
“We have started receiving the ventilators from the orders placed. The first lot of 10,000 ventilators has arrived, which are now in the process of being allocated to states,” the official said, adding that the “import orders issued earlier have started coming in as well”.
“However, in India, the use of ventilators in hospitals is not as aggressive as anticipated. Patients are responding well to oxygen therapy,” the officer said.
The first lot referred to by the official has arrived from domestic players Bharat Electronics Limited (in collaboration with healthcare company Skanray) and AgVa (in collaboration with Maruti Suzuki Limited), which have been altogether asked to provide 40,000 ventilators.
Around 24 manufacturers of ventilators also applied for a tender rolled out by the health ministry in March. “The ministry has chosen one manufcturer whose production capacity is huge to meet domestic demand. The remaining others are demonstrating their products, based on which they will be certified for exports, if and when allowed,” the empowered group officer said.