Doctors and virologists have continued to undertake back-breaking research on the nature of the novel virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Precautions have been taken as well, with much of the public trapped within the confines of homes.


Ever since the coronavirus broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the deadly disease has spread across more than 203 countries, infected 868,995 worldwide, and killed over 43,123 people (as of April 1). Yet, neither a definite cure nor the more prevention-oriented vaccine is in sight.

From peak projections and incubation periods to asymptomatic patients, almost every individual scrounging the news media for updates on the coronavirus crisis has gotten acquainted with a handful of medical terms just as they pine for even the most minute glimmer of hope.

Although countries — especially the third world and developing ones — continue to decry a shortage of medical facilities, not many people get to understand what ventilators are and the critical role they play among other resources in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.


What are ventilators?

To hit the nail on the head, ventilator machines or respirators typically take over one’s breathing process when some disease (like coronavirus) has caused the lungs to fail and fall short in a critical function required to keep a patient alive as the immune system tries to fight off the infection.

This bedside life-saver, which is also called the breathing machine, simply helps you acquire oxygen if you can’t do it sufficiently on your own due to distress. They’re mostly used in Intensive Care Units (ICU), home care, and emergency medicine and can either be invasive or non-invasive.


While the invasive type sees that a tube is passed through your windpipe down to your lungs, the non-invasive type involves fitting a face mask to the nose and mouth with no tube for the airways. But, whichever it is, experts have warned that insufficient ventilators could cause the death of patients.

How ventilators work and why they’re critical

Various types of medical ventilation can be used (CREDIT: Hamilton Medical)

What the novel coronavirus does is that it attacks the lungs, becoming a nightmare for patients who already suffer existing conditions likes asthma and other pulmonary diseases. While most people recover from COVID-19 without needing special treatment, some develop breathing difficulties.

Patients, mostly those in the high-risk category, often need help breathing to make it through and that’s what makes ventilators so important. This machine pumps life-giving oxygenated air through the lungs while removing carbon dioxide. For many people, this stands between them and death.


The ventilator also has a humidifier, which modifies and adds heat and moisture to the medical air so that it matches the patient’s body temperature. Patients are then given medication to relax their respiratory muscles just so their breathing can be fully regulated by the machine.

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to surge, the problem has been that there haven’t been enough ventilators, prompting medical facilities to consider prioritizing age groups with respect to ICU admissions. This has caused the demand for ventilators in consignments to rise.

High demand for ventilators; the status quo for healthcare systems

“In 2018, it was estimated that there were about 160,000 ventilators in the US. Under normal circumstances, this should be enough to serve everybody that needs one. But, in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a severe shortage,” CNET’s Jesse Orall said while speaking of US’ cases in March.


BBC quoted a source with the National Health Service (NHS) to have stated that the UK has just 8,175 ventilators and is urgently seeking to acquire up to 30,000 more, placing an order for 10,000 newly-designed machines from technology firm Dyson. This, according to reports, has put ventilator makers under pressure.

According to Aljazeera, Hamilton Medical AG, one of the world’s largest ventilators maker based in Switzerland, aims to raise production numbers to about 21,000 ventilators in 2020 from 15,000 recorded last year, by deploying marketing staff on the production line, among other measures.

“What am I going to do with 400 ventilators, when I need 30,000? You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators,” Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, had charged in a statement to the US’ government.

Ventilators help to force oxygen into the lungs of patients who are struggling to get enough (CREDIT: JERRY LAMPEN/EPA)

But Trump would later invoke a national security act compelling General Motors, an American multinational automaker, to mass-produce the breathing machine as the country’s COVID-19 cases soared to a figure well over 164,000.


Nigeria’s COVID-19 battle and ventilator ‘shortage’

There are fears about the economic impact of COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria as the government continues to take stringent measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease.

But what’s even more troubling is that sources had reported, as of late March, that Nigeria had less than 500 ventilators to combat the health crisis, with confirmed cases now 131 alongside three deaths so far amid a shortage of medical facilities.

“We are engaging international friends and partners to share knowledge and seek their support in our response to the pandemic,” President Muhammadu Buhari recently said while speaking on the country’s response strategy.

“We are grateful for the show of support thus far – we have already started receiving goods and supplies intended to help us scale up our efforts.

“I’ve directed the Minister of Industry, Trade, and Investment, to work with the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and ensure that the production of essential items such as food, medical and pharmaceutical products continues unhindered.”

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