On 13 May, Amitabha Bandyopadhyay, a professor at the Indian Institute of Kanpur (IIT-K), joined a virtual conference on building indigenous oxygen concentrators. Along with Bandyopadhyay—the head of IIT-K’s incubator, SIIC—there were 7-8 other companies on the call. They were gathered as part of a collaborative effort to design and manufacture an Indian oxygen concentrator. 

Their deadline? A month.

On the call, one of the companies took apart a few concentrators imported from China only to find that there is barely any quality control of the oxygen concentrators now flooding the market. During the call, the company demonstrated how the machine’s digital display was programmed to fluctuate in the range of 93 to 96% oxygen purity, but the actual level was closer to 35%. “That could potentially be fatal,” says Bandyopadhyay.

During India’s second wave, oxygen concentrators have become a critical tool for the oxygen management of Covid-19 patients both at home and in hospitals. For remote, rural medical settings, concentrators can help plug the gap when fresh oxygen sources are in short supply short supply The Ken No room to breathe: India’s oxygen scarcity isn’t just about production Read more . The cruel shortfall of oxygen led to a deluge of avoidable deaths. 

With ventilators and oxygen cylinders in short supply, concentrators became the default alternative. The price of these devices jumped from Rs 50,000-60,000 ($691-828) to over Rs 1.5-2 lakh ($2072-2762) in under a month. This, despite the Indian government dropping all perceivable barriers for the imports of concentrators and other supporting apparatus in April 2021. The GST rate on concentrators was even slashed from 28% to 12% in early May to increase the supply to end consumers through e-commerce portals or international couriers. For individual use, the courts have decided to waive waive Financial Express Govt permits oxygen concentrator imports via post, courier for personal use under gift category Read more even the 12% tax as “gift” exemption.

Since then, the flood of imports has been difficult to control, with India’s lack of quality standards for oxygen concentrators only complicating things further. “Almost 90% of the models flooding the market right now are “home-grade” concentrators, which don’t have a powerful compressor inside,” says Siddharth Dhawan, a Mohali-based medical device manufacturer. Medical-grade concentrators usually come with a stronger compressor capable of generating more pressure and power for the concentrator. This is essential when a patient is reliant on an external oxygen source. 

The search for standards

According to information sourced by The Ken, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) is now planning to adopt an ISO standard for concentrators

Dhawan’s company, Walnut Medical, is one of the several manufacturers attempting to design and manufacture a make-in-India concentrator, of 5 and 10 litre/min capacity.

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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