Ventilators witness huge difference in prices hinh anh 1Vietnam’s most severely ill COVID-19 patient numbered 91 is supported by a ventilator during his treatment Cho Ray Hospital and earlier at HCM City Hospital for Tropical Disease (Source: VNA)

Hanoi (VNS/VNA) - With ventilators seen as essential to saving the lives of severely ill COVID-19 patients, the massive pricing gap among breathing machines bought by hospitals nationwide has triggered public scepticism. 

Amid the pandemic, global demand for ventilators has rocketed. However, there is a significant difference in each machine's price.

The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) recently launched an inspection into medical facilities’ procurement, Thanh nien (Young people) newspaper has reported. 

On July 5, Quang Nam Province’s Department of Health said the provincial People’s Committee had used more than 6 billion VND (260,000 USD) from the public budget to buy seven fully-equipped ventilators and 630 million VND (27,000 USD) for seven portable air compressors, all made by US-based General Electric. 

These machines were then distributed to four local hospitals which treat COVID-19 patients. 

Earlier, two of the nation’s top-tier hospitals, Cho Ray in HCM City and Bach Mai in Hanoi purchased the same type of ventilators at different prices – 850 million VND (36,700 USD) and 640 million VND (27,600 USD), respectively. The cost gap was 210 million VND (9,000 USD). 

Doctor Nguyen Tri Thuc, Director of the Cho Ray Hospital, said they bought three high-end ventilators produced by GE Healthcare. The machines were included in the hospital’s annual procurement plan, not for COVID-19 response and therefore, were not purchased using the national budget for disease control and prevention. The plan was approved by the Ministry of Health (MoH). 

The difference in prices, according to Thuc, is due to additional functions the hospital required.

“These ventilators can measure blood and bronchi oxygen levels, monitor electrocardiography, analyse blood pressure, etc. We had to pay more for these functions,” said Thuc. 

In Da Nang City, Doctor Le Duc Nhan, the city hospital’s director, said it had nearly 80 ventilators before the outbreak. In late January, the city’s Department of Health equipped it with two more portable ventilators.  

Nhan said the functions of ventilators were diverse. “Based on options, performance, retailers and producers, a ventilator can cost 200 million VND (8,600 USD) up to 2 billion VND (86,300 USD), the same way you buy a car,” said Nhan.

The most expensive ventilator in Vietnam, costing 1.45 billion VND (62,600 USD), belongs to the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai. 

The breathing machine, coded Carescape R860, was included in a package of medical equipment for COVID-19 response valued 8.6 billion VND approved by Gia Lai Province Department of Health in April. 

A ventilator with the same model of Carescape R860 was bought by Khanh Hoa Province’s Department of Health in August last year for only 789.5 million VND (34,000 USD). The Gia Lai Province People’s Committee has tasked inspectors to determine the reason for the price difference. 

“According to the initial information we have got, it was the same type of breathing machine but the ventilator that Gia Lai Province General Hospital bought was Carescape R860 Metabolic-FRC - nebulizer. This unit has additional functions such as nutritional evaluation, functional residual capacity tool, gas analysis module and so on,” said a representative of the provincial Department of Health. 

Pham Ba My, Director of the Gia Lai Province General Hospital, said the machine had not been used as the province had not reported any case of COVID-19. 

“The ventilator is now sealed for inspection. The purchase was strictly monitored. Gia Lai Province’s breathing machine has the highest configuration with more than five additional functions,” said My. 

The machine used in Khanh Hoa has performed well in supporting COVID-19 patients, said Doctor Nguyen Dong, director of Khanh Hoa Hospital for Tropical Diseases. 

“As all patients have been discharged, the machine is not in use,” said Dong. 

The MoH is investigating the “real” prices of ventilators, according to Nguyen Minh Tuan, head of the ministry’s Department of Medical Equipment and Facilities. 

“As localities organise bidding for procurement on their own, we do not know why prices highly differ,” said Tuan. 

“The same equipment might be bought at different costs, depending on manufacturers’ policies or logistic expenses. However, the gap cannot be too obvious,” he added. 

“Evaluating and comparing to determine the reasonable price in the procurement of medical equipment is quite difficult but it can be done. The MoH is determining the 'real', reasonable prices for medical equipment to be procured, firstly for testing machines,” he said.

Earlier in April, seven officials from Hanoi’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and related companies, including the centre's director Nguyen Nhat Cam, were arrested for a COVID-19 testing machine fraud. 

The defendants confessed to police they had jacked up the price of the machines and promised to return the money, according to MPS./.