At a weekly average of 3.3 lakh COVID-19 cases across India, hospitals have run out of medicines, beds, ventilators, and other life-saving drugs and equipment. Heart-breaking scenes of desperate citizens crying for help outside hospitals, oxygen refilling centres, and cremation grounds present a grim situation that demands urgent attention.
The healthcare system is collapsing. Patients are gasping for oxygen. Even as India plans to import 1 lakh oxygen concentrators the scramble for cylinders and concentrators continues. While help has started pouring in from other countries, this too is a stop gap arrangement and India needs to channel its local resources immediately to meet the demand for equipment.
To help combat the situation, a special team at Startup Incubation and Innovation Centre, IIT Kanpur has been set-up to come up with an immediate and viable solution. The team has launched Mission Bharat O2, an open manufacturing challenge for bedside oxygen concentrators and oxygen plants.
The manufacturing challenge task force is led by Prof. Amitabha Bandyopadhyay, Professor In-charge, Innovation & Incubation, IIT Kanpur and Srikant Sastri, Director, FIRST-IITK and Chairman, I3G Advisory Network, and Rahul Patel, Head of Strategic Initiatives, SIIC IIT Kanpur. The former two were the co-leads of the task force that developed the Noccarc V310 (the world-class invasive ICU ventilator) last year. This time, the trio is determined to help fill one of the gaps in India’s healthcare system, yet again. They are supported by a 10-member team from SIIC who are managing different parts of the project.
The Mission Bharat O2 challenge comes at an unprecedent time and is therefore not limited to a single manufacturer for delivering the product. The oxygen concentrator is an invasive medical device with limited scope for product innovation, and hence SIIC plans to decentralise the manufacturing process by engaging quality SMEs across states. SIIC aims to work with a set of manufacturers in different regions of India with a target production capacity of 100 units per day with the possibility of scaling up.
This is not the first time that SIIC has stepped up to help. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit India last year, it supported its incubated companies to develop indigenous products including the Swasa N-95 mask and the Noccarc V310 ventilator. Back then, such life-saving equipment was imported at heavy rates, and no one had thought that it could be manufactured locally, at par with global standards.
Prof. Abhay Karandikar, Director, IIT Kanpur, has urged eligible manufacturers to apply for the challenge. He says, “IIT Kanpur carries a legacy of serving the nation in times of urgent need. When the first wave of COVID-19 hit India SIIC incubated companies stepped up to deliver world-class healthcare products. The products, developed locally, are a testament of India’s capability to innovate at par with global standards. As we reel under the impact of the second wave in India, IIT Kanpur and SIIC have decided to support more indigenous innovators, this time to address the oxygen crisis in the country. I urge all eligible manufacturers to participate in Mission Bharat O2”.
Commenting on the urgency of the situation Prof. Bandyopadhyay says, “SIIC and IIT Kanpur have a history of bracing themselves and delivering quality in times of need. We did it with the Noccarc ventilator; we will do it again with Mission Bharat O2. We urge young Indian innovators to show support in large numbers once again.”
Commenting on a business’ ability to adapt and evolve in such times, Srikant Sastri shares, “Entrepreneurs usually get carried away by a big idea without acknowledging whether the problem it solves is as big. With Mission Bharat O2, SIIC IIT Kanpur has taken a step towards solving a major crisis the country is grappling with today. We believe that the team will make a mark through its combined entrepreneurial experience and vision to serve the nation.”
The initiative makes a strong case for leveraging local, indigenous talent to innovate the manufacturing and supply chain for oxygen concentrators and plants. It is a crucial step towards developing and manufacturing affordable healthcare equipment right here in India. Online applications are live at https://www.bharato2.in/ from where any eligible Indian SME manufacturer can apply.