|Ford plans to then produce 30,000 ventilators per month after early July and the devices will be produced in the Rawsonville Components Plant of Ford. / Photo by James R. Martin via Shutterstock|
American multinational automaker Ford and manufacturing company GE Healthcare plan to manufacture 50,000 ventilators in the next 100 days in Michigan to be used by Covid-19 patients, reports US news channel CNBC.
Ford and GE to produce medical devices
Executives of both companies said that the production of the devices will start the week of April 20 and the factory will be staffed by union members of 500 United Auto Workers, who have volunteered to take part in the project. Ford plans to then produce 30,000 ventilators per month after early July and the devices will be produced in the Rawsonville Components Plant of Ford.
A total of 1,500 ventilators are expected to be produced by the end of April, 12,000 by the end of May, and complete the 50,000 by July 4.
Importance of ventilators for patients with Covid-19
Ventilators are machines that help people who are unable to breathe. When lungs cannot perform their primary functions of taking oxygen in and getting rid of the carbon dioxide, a person’s breathing is impaired. Using a ventilator increases the amount of oxygen in the lungs.
Pulmonologist Dr. Phil Forys explained that coronavirus diseases cause acute respiratory distress symptoms (ARDS) in patients. Parts of the lung are filled with fluid and there are also damaged lung cells that cannot bring in oxygen. Ventilators bring about 100% oxygen into the lungs. However, not every person that is diagnosed with Covid-19 will be put on the device, says American Lung Association Board member Dr. Mason Goodman.
Goodman, who is also a pulmonary care specialist, pointed out that about eight to nine out of 10 people who tested positive for the disease have a “relatively benign course.” This means that the majority of them don’t need to be hospitalized and some require hospitalization but do not need to be referred to the intensive care unit or require ventilation.
The average time that the devices were needed for Covid-19 patients in China and Italy was 11 to 14 days.
The Airon Model A-E
The design of the ventilator called Airon Model A-E is being licensed by GE from Airon Corporation, a privately held company that specializes in high-tech pneumatic life support products. The ventilation technology doesn’t need any electricity and operates on air pressure alone. Airon currently produces three ventilators per day at a factory in Florida. Ford will be collaborating with GE Healthcare to increase the production of the ventilators.
GE Healthcare’s vice president and chief quality officer Tom Westrick said that they applaud Ford Motors as to how quickly it mobilized its facilities to help the challenges that the world now faces with the pandemic. He added that Ford is “working closely” with the US government officials as well to help fulfill the demand and it doesn’t have any private customers yet to purchase the devices.
Westrick said that GE Healthcare’s decision to join forces with Ford and make use of their workforce was based on their ability and speed to increase the capacity as fast as they could. The Industrial Division of Communication Workers of America union, which represents 700,000 workers in public and private sector employment and represents the largest share of GE employees in America, previously demanded the company to use its full manufacturing resources to increase its ventilator output to help fill the shortage caused by the pandemic.
|The design of the ventilator called Airon Model A-E is being licensed by GE from Airon Corporation. / Photo by Sergey Ryzhov. via Shutterstock|
US automakers to the rescue
Aside from Ford, other automakers have also pledged to help expedite in producing ventilators. General Motors, for instance, is collaborating with ventilator maker Ventec Life Systems to increase their production. American electric vehicle and clean energy company Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk said that he is planning to manufacturing ventilators as well at its plan in Buffalo although no further details were shared about the company’s efforts.
However, switching from manufacturing cars to ventilators is not as easy as ventilators use specialized parts and sophisticated software. There are several hurdles that companies often face when they seek to manufacture such complex machines, such as intellectual property rights, safety considerations, regulatory approvals, and the need for specially trained workers. This is why automakers are working with traditional ventilator makers.
Just like there is a race in developing coronavirus treatments, it will be a race against time for automakers and ventilator makers. In New York, for instance, sick patients are already overwhelming hospitals. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that the number of ventilators that they need is “so astronomical” that they have resorted to experimental solutions, such as using one machine for two patients. In the US, there are about 160,000 ventilators available but John Hopkins Center for Health Security said that as much as 740,000 could be needed.
Not all ventilator technology will be alike as some are more complex than the others. For the sickest COVID-19 patients, their lungs can stiffen so they would need high-end machines that may cost up to US$50,000. These machines also have to be precisely manufactured for patients and be operated by well-trained medical professionals. The assembly and production of these high-end ventilators are best left to existing ventilator manufacturers. But Westrick has mentioned “basic” ventilators that are well-suited to address the current needs during the pandemic.
Health care expenditure
The World Bank shares that the general government expenditure in US that is spent on health amounted to 12.502 %GDP in 2000, 13.954% in 2002, 14.537% in 2004, 14.658% in 2006, 15.294% in 2008, 16.413% in 2010, 16.366% in 2012, 16.505% in 2014, and 17.073% in 2016.
Health spending measures the final consumption of healthcare goods and services including personal health care and collective services. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an intergovernmental economic organization, countries with the highest health spending in 2018 included the US ($10,586 per capita), Switzerland ($7,317), Norway ($6,187), Germany ($5,986), Sweden ($5,447), Austria ($5, 395), and Denmark ($5,299).
As COVID-29 spreads across the world, there are continuing concerns among government leaders, public health experts, and hospitals that intensive care units will not be enough to handle the number of patients. Having more ventilators will be crucial to sustaining life, especially in serious situations.