UK Medical Experts Warn of Dangerous Chinese Ventilators, Bulgaria Ordered Them from Same Manufacturer

Atanas Tchobanov

According to a report by NBC News, UK anesthesiologists, doctors and hospital managers have sent a letter to the National Health Services (NHS) warning that Chinese ventilators made by Beijing Aeonmed Co. Ltd. are dangerous for patients, have an unfamiliar for European conditions design and came with a confusing instruction manual. Bulgaria has already ordered and is still awaiting the delivery of 50 ventilators of a different model made by the same manufacturer, for which the Bulgarian government paid double the price, Bivol revealed.

“We believe that if used, significant patient harm, including death, is likely,” according to an April 13, 2020, letter by UK medical professionals, seen by NBC News. “We look forward to the withdrawal and replacement of these ventilators with devices better able to provide intensive care ventilation for our patients,” the medics insist.
The UK has purchased from Beijing Aeonmed Co. Ltd. 250 ventilators of the Shangrila 510 model, while Bulgaria has purchased the VG70 model. Manufacturer Aeonmed recommends both models as effective in the fight against COVID-19.

However, the faults described by British doctors are alarming – the ventilator’s oxygen supply being “variable and unreliable” and its build quality described as “basic”. “Its fabric case could not be cleaned properly — essential when fighting a highly infectious virus — and it arrived with a “non-E.U.” oxygen connection hose.”

According to The Guardian, a UK government spokesperson has assured that “the Shangrila 510 ventilator model is not being used in hospitals and no patients are at risk. Ventilators need to pass robust regulatory tests to ensure they are up to standard before they’re delivered to NHS hospitals”.

“Bulgarian ventilators” from China – mid-end technology at double the price

On March 27, 2020, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and members of the Council of Ministers approved a contract with the Chinese National Pharmaceutical Corporation for Foreign Trade (a subsidiary of Sinopharm) for the supply of personal protective gear and medical equipment. With European funds provided under the Operational Program “Regions in Growth”, the Ministry of Health had to purchase 1,176,770 pieces of protective masks worth EUR 1,412,124 and 50 ventilators worth EUR 1,500,000 or EUR 30,000 per unit.

After two formal inquiry letters, a dozen phone calls and several press conferences by Bulgarian Health Minister Kiril Ananiyev, we finally obtained a response to some of our questions. The Ministry of Health replied in writing that the contracted 50 ventilators are of the VG70 model by Beijing Aeonmed CO.Ltd.

Aeonmed’s importers are offering the same model in the Bulgarian market under EUR 30,000, and even at twice-lower prices. The current price, however, seems justified because of the extreme urgency – the scarce devices must be delivered on time, within weeks, to reinforce intensive care units in the fight against COVID-19.

Medical experts consulted by Bivol described the VG70 as a mid-end product of the Chinese medical industry. The leaders in the industry are the German Dragerwerk AG but there is also Chinese production with European certification, which is of acceptable quality at significantly lower prices.

A check on the website of the Bulgarian Public Procurement Agency shows that a ventilator from another Chinese company, also certified in the EU and in the United States, has been delivered to a Bulgarian hospital for BGN 24,000 without VAT. Currently, the price is higher, of course.

So far, there is no information on how and why the Ministry of Health has opted for the Beijing Aeonmed VG70 ventilator. There is also no clarity whether there has been a discussion with experts on the options and a study of offers. We do not know whether the most favorable price-quality-availability combination has been selected to absorb the redirected EU funds to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

Nevertheless, the fact is that for over a month since the approval of the contract, the Chinese ventilators have not been delivered and it is unclear when they will arrive in Bulgaria, making the order unreasonably expensive, in addition to the UK’s quality warnings for this particular manufacturer.


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