Surging COVID-19 cases: Punjab struggles with acute ventilator shortage

Companies backed off in bidding phase due to short Punjab govt deadline

Khalid Qayyum April 13, 2020
PHOTO: REUTERS

LAHORE: With the surging number of COVID-19 cases in Punjab and the consequent demand for ventilators in hospitals, the provincial government is facing the chill wind of the pandemic.

To this end, the government’s Specialised Healthcare Department issued a procurement tender for ventilators on an emergency basis but international and local suppliers refused to accept the offer.

Per sources, a tender notice for the procurement of 200 ventilators was advertised last week and the deadline for technical bidding was set on Thursday, April 9. Per the tender, the machines had to be supplied within a month. Responding to the offer, four leading companies purchased the bidding documents and participated in the technical bidding process. However, seeing that the government required the ventilators within a very short period, none of the companies agreed with the deadline and backed off during the technical bidding phase.

Aside from setting a strict deadline for the supply of the ventilators to meet the coronavirus emergency, the Punjab government had also placed a condition for supplies to import ventilators manufactured in Europe, the United States and Japan. However, considering that the aforementioned countries are themselves struggling with the pandemic, manufacturers refused to supply the ventilators within a month.

On the other hand, a Lahore-based company offered to supply Chinese-made ventilators to the Specialised Healthcare Department, but the offer was turned down.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, a representative of the company said that her firm was ready to supply the required number of Chinese-made ventilators to the health department upon the directives of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

To manage the crisis, Specialised Healthcare has also authorised all the large-scale teaching hospitals as well as the autonomous ones to purchase certain emergency machinery and medical items directly. What’s more, money for the purpose has also been transferred to the respective hospitals.

Designated hospitals have been allowed to buy 37 medicines, ventilators, 109 different types of medical equipment and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The Specialised Healthcare Department has also sent standard operating procedures (SOPs) to the management of all hospitals to ensure transparency in the procurement process. That apart, purchase committees have also been constituted in hospitals.

According to Special Secretary Health Nadir Chattha, the department had set a 30-day delivery deadline for the supply of ventilators because of the rising number of COVID-19 patients in the province. However, the suppliers did not agree to the condition, therefore, a new tender will be issued soon.

“Per the new tender, if companies are unable to supply all 200 ventilators simultaneously, they will be allowed to provide us with five or six machines at a time, he said. “[Given the situation], we have also asked the federal government for the provision of ventilators.”

Chattha explained that the Specialised Health Department refused to buy Chinese-made ventilators because of their substandard quality, adding that doctors have also discouraged their use.

“Since the provincial cabinet has declared an emergency due to the spread of COVID-19 in the province, the general Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules are currently inapplicable. Despite that, our department advertised the procurement tender in the newspapers because we wanted more and more companies to participate in the bidding process,” he concluded.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2020.

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