China revs up medical device production amid global shortage

By GT staff reporters Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/11 22:48:40

Orders from abroad surge as infection cases continue to increase

An expert team including five medical specialists from Southwest China's Sichuan Province and one from the country's Center of Disease Control depart for Italy on Wednesday, where total COVID-19 cases have exceeded 10,000. Photo: cnsphoto

Chinese companies are expanding production of medical devices essential for diagnosing and treating patients with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) such as ventilators and computed tomography (CT) scanners to meet rising demand from overseas as the number of confirmed cases continue to surge across the world.

China is already the largest supplier of protective gear from surgical masks to gloves and suits, but it's also emerging as a main producer of more advanced diagnostic and therapeutic equipment, with many companies seeing rising orders from abroad in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic. While many manufacturers still focus on domestic needs, some are also preparing for export orders to support hard-hit countries.

Rising demand

Mindray Medical International Ltd, a Shenzhen-based medical equipment and solutions provider, said that the company has already been providing medical equipment including respirators to some top Chinese hospitals that are sending medical personnel and equipment to aid Italy. 

"If the epidemic spreads more widely overseas, there may be surging demand for medical equipment such as ventilators, patient monitors, infusion pumps and portable ultrasound systems," Wang Rui, PR manager of Mindray, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

While developed countries generally have strategic reserves of medical equipment and materials for responding to emergencies, if the epidemic becomes more widespread, these reserves could be insufficient, according to Wang.

While many countries are still focusing on containing the deadly virus from further spreading and facing a dire shortage of protective gear, treatment for patients with COVID-19 could also pose challenges for some, including developed countries such as Italy, given the rising number of confirmed cases.

As of Tuesday, there are more than 113,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in more than 100 countries and regions, with new cases surging rapidly outside China, according to the World Health Organization.

As the number of cases rise, "medical equipment such as ventilators, CT scanners, color ultrasound machines, fiber bronchoscopes and dialysis machines as well as test kits are also in urgent need," Cheng Cai, a veteran doctor at Wuhan Tongji hospital, who has been treating patients in the epicenter since the outbreak began, told the Global Times. 

While China still relies on imports of some advanced equipment for treating patients, such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machines, according to Cheng, Chinese companies are also rising up in the supply chain.

Apart from other traditional medical equipment, Chinese companies have also been quick in producing diagnostic tools, particularly in the case of COVID-19. Chinese made testing kits are now being shipped to many countries around the world. "Currently, the test kit output can meet domestic demand," an employee at Shanghai BioGerm Medical Biotechnology Co told the Global Times on Wednesday, noting that the company is producing 150,000 test kits per day and is hoping to support other countries fighting the coronavirus. 

A technician adjusts medical devices donated to hospitals in Xianning of Hubei, at a medical system company in Qinhuangdao, north China's Hebei Province, Feb. 4, 2020. Two vehicles carrying ten medical devices donated by a medical system enterprise in Qinhuangdao set out to help hospitals in Xianning City of Hubei fight against novel coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Xinhua

Ready to help 

More than just treatment and diagnostic tools, Chinese companies are also rushing to expand production of protective gear, including masks, goggles and suits, to fill the global shortage.  

Nanjing-based Jiangsu Casdilly Dress Co, a military uniform supplier, said that the company is planning to export protective suits to help countries coping with the epidemic, Li Zhiming, president of the company, told the Global Times, noting that the company can now produce 40,000 protective suits a day compared to 300 in the beginning.

Zhejiang Longtai Medical Technology Co said that it has already received increased orders from Japan, South Korea, Germany and the US and is preparing documents and tests for export, said Wu Kangping, head of the company, adding that it could still take the company a while to complete export orders as there is still a domestic shortage. 

There have already been reports of healthcare workers infected by the virus while treating patients due to a lack of protective gear such as suits. Facing such shortages, some countries have even imposed bans on exports of medical supplies, posing further challenges.

Chinese officials have said that they have never imposed restrictions on such exports. In fact, some orders for overseas markets came from the Chinese government, which is donating the supplies to some countries. For example, Wang of Mindray said that the company was contacted by local officials to provide medical equipment to Italy. 

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