KATHMANDU, Aug 18: When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, Nepal had only 600 life-saving ventilator machines – a crucial medical equipment for keeping critical coronavirus patients alive. Of the 600 machines, 25 percent of the machines were defunct.
Doctor Bishal Dhakal started working on a campaign to provide ventilator machines to hospitals. Sensing the need for life-saving machines during the pandemic, Dr. Dhakal, along with four others, established a non-profit organization--Nepal Ventilator Bank-- in mid-April.
Since then the organization has already rented out 15 life-saving ventilator machines to different hospitals – inside and outside the Valley. Likewise, another 20 hospitals have already booked ventilators from the organization. The organization has created an inventory to lease ventilator machines to the needy hospitals.
“We [organization] rent ventilators to the hospitals in dire need. The hospitals will return the ventilator machines after a certain period of time,” Dr. Dhakal told Republica.
Currently, the organization is charging Rs 3,000 per day to private hospitals, while public and community hospitals have to pay Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000 per day.
“We want patients to pay the minimum for ventilator support. At a time when some private hospitals are charging up to Rs 9,000 per day for ventilator support, we want to reduce that financial burden on patients,” said Rameshore Khanal, a former government secretary, who is also involved in the campaign.
The organization has imported life-saving ventilator machines from Europe.
The 30 ventilators – imported by the organization – has a market value of Rs 30 million. However, the organization has purchased these machines in credit from local vendors.
As the initiative is for a worthy cause, donations and support poured in from everywhere. According to Khanal, the organization has raised a total of Rs 5.5 million as donations from Nepal and abroad. “The vendor has agreed to import ventilators in credit for 90 days. As the organization is unable to pay for all the ventilators, we are taking loans from Laxmi Bank and Nepal Merchant Bank. The organization plans to pay loans from donations collected in future,” he said.
Dr. Bishal Dhakal, Rameshore Khanal, Prof. Subash Acharya, Niranjan Shrestha, and Dipendra Chaulagain are leading this effort. They initially collected Rs 380,000 to establish and run the organization.
“This initiative aims at providing ventilator machines to hospitals at lower rates, easing financial burden on patients. In case of emergency, a large number of ventilators can be quickly deployed wherever they are needed,” Dr. Dhakal said.
Almost 70 percent of the total ventilators are owned by the hospitals in Kathmandu Valley, the organization aims at leasing machines to hospitals outside the capital.
Talking to Republica, Dr. Dhakal said that the organization has been established to help the people and hospitals in need. “Hospitals often refer critically-ill patients elsewhere to find a ventilator bed. Also, hospitals charge exorbitant prices for ventilator beds. We want this “bad culture” to end,” he said, adding that ventilators have to chase patients, not that patients should search for ventilator beds.
Only 25 out of 104 government hospitals have life-saving ventilator machines. And the country has one ventilator per 114,000 population. “If Nepal targets five ventilators for 100,000 population, the country needs 1,450 ventilators, 650 more than we currently have. We are working to fulfill that demand,” said Dr. Dhakal, urging people and organizations to donate for the cause.
“The organization is open to accept pledges, or ventilators. We [organization] provide the vendor details and model numbers of life-saving ventilators approved by Nepali hospitals to willing donors. Our initiative is transparent,”said the organization. Nepal Ventilator Bank started with a mission to provide 1000 ventilators to the needy hospitals in 100 days, prompting many to contribute toward this mission.
When asked about the maintenance of the machines, Khanal said the organization is collaborating with the National Innovation Center run by Mahabir Pun. “The organization is also planning to provide servicing and maintenance of medical equipment,” he said.