Ventilator manufacturer says Canada should have stockpiled machines after SARS

by David Burke · CBC News

‘It is just frustrating that governments can’t think ahead and be prepared!’

A manufacturer of medical ventilators says Canada should have stockpiled the machines after Toronto’s 2003 SARS outbreak, given they are now harder to come by as hospitals around the world scramble to buy more with the outbreak of COVID-19.

Ventilators are mechanical breathing machines that help patients with damaged lungs get enough oxygen to live. Since COVID-19 can harm the lungs, the devices are critical to the survival of people hit hard by the virus.

There are now five presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, and the provincial government has ordered 140 ventilators to boost the province’s supply of about 240.

But Eric Gjerde, CEO of Airon Corporation, a U.S. company that manufactures ventilators for sale in Canada and abroad, said those machines should have already been on hand.

“Your government and Ministry of Health should have hundreds of ventilators in storage,” he said in an email.

“These ventilators can sit in boxes for years, with no maintenance. When they are needed, you just attach oxygen and you are good. It is just frustrating that governments can’t think ahead and be prepared!”

SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, was caused by a coronavirus that spread through much of the world in the early 2000s, killing hundreds of people including 44 in Canada.

It could be hard for companies to meet demand for ventilators as the need skyrockets worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It typically takes three to four weeks to fill an order, according to Canadian supplier McArthur Medical Sales. But during the pandemic it is “very difficult” to estimate when machines will be available, said Frank Fiorenza, a product development manager at McArthur and a respiratory therapist at the Ottawa Hospital.

Some European countries struggling with coronavirus, like Italy and Germany, are clamouring for more ventilators to treat severe cases of the illness. Italy, which as of Sunday had more 1,800 deaths due to coronavirus, recently issued a tender for an additional 5,000 ventilators.


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