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Acute Shortage Of Ventilators, And A Proven Remedy

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Acute Shortage of Ventilators, and a Proven Remedy; The FDA Has Authorized the Use of CPAP Breathing Devices

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An Acute Shortage Of Ventilators

WASHINGTON, D.C, (December 31, 2021) - A report from Precedence Research last week documented that there is an "acute shortage of ventilators." While a long-term cause is the "rising prevalence of the chronic respiratory diseases among the population," the demand for ventilators has been exploded by the pandemic, more recently by the astounding transmissibility of the Omicron variant, and also by critical delivery delays caused by the supply chain crisis.

As a result of this shortage - both of the ventilators themselves, but also of the highly trained personnel necessary to operate them who are increasingly unavailable due to quarantine requirements - people are dying, but many can be saved by a proven life saving alternative approved and championed by the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] in the U.S., and also by its Australian counterpart, says professor John Banzhaf.

A novel proven strategy now growing in use could make it possible to provide enough respiratory assistance to save hundreds of thousands of lives, even for people who live in remove areas without access to reliable electricity, much less to enough ventilators and those trained to operate them, says Banzhaf, who was one of the first to suggest and aggressively promote this new procedure.

Ventilators are very expensive and complex pieces of equipment which require trained operators, and are often already scarce during the current pandemic, even in major western countries.

But CPAP, BiPAP, and similar breathing machines - sometimes called "poor man's ventilators," and used primarily to treat snoring and other sleep apnea problems - have now been approved for use in treating COVID-19 patients, and have been shown to be effective in many cases.

Using CPAP And BiPAP Devices

Banzhaf, an MIT-educated engineer and inventor, was one of the first to suggest and widely promote the concept of using these comparatively simple and much less expensive devices in many situations in which a COVID-19 patient required respiratory assistance to remain alive, but did not necessarily need the full power and sophistication of a modern hospital ventilator, much less one operated by a trained technician.

His suggestion received a major boost when the FDA not only recommended the procedure, but made it legal by a ruling. The Australian counterpart of the FDA then did the same.

This dramatic expansion to the arsenal of weapons against the deadly virus is very important, says Banzhaf, because:

  • hospital ventilators are in short supply, but there are millions of existing CPAP machines, in homes and in medical warehouses, with some no longer even needed by former users;
  • hospitals and medical treatment centers are able to afford many more CPAPs (at about $850 each) than ventilators ($25K-50K each), especially since there may be little use for the latter once COVID-19 peak demand ceases;
  • people are readily donating CPAP machines which may no longer be needed, something Banzhaf originally suggested in a TV interview;
  • many CPAP machines can be powered by 12-volt electricity, so they can be used wherever there is a vehicle or vehicle battery, even if electric power in the region is spotty, intermittent, or even unavailable.

New York State has already acquired thousands of CPAP and BiPAP devices to deal with any anticipated ventilator shortage.

Indeed, the New York Times has reported that "doctors at North Shore University Hospital on Long Island have been using machines designed for people with sleep apnea to keep scores of coronavirus patients breathing," and that such innovations "may have helped stave off the dire ventilator shortages and rationing that some had feared but have not come to pass."

The Times report also points out that "many hospitals are using them to increase oxygen levels without resorting to intubation" - since intubation is a procedure with major risks. Most COVID-19 patients who are intubated die, notes Banzhaf, and others suffer long-lasting problems. The Times also says that "the devices, doctors say, have been especially helpful for coronavirus patients with moderately impaired lung function."

So Professor Banzhaf suggests that hospitals in the U.S. worried about existing or possible future shortages of ventilators should be sure they are aware of how CPAP and similar breathing devices can often be used (some times with minor modifications) by COVID patients who need some assistance to breathe, but do not necessarily always require the full power and sophistication of a hospital ventilator machine.

He also suggests that organization seeking to help COVID patients in many developing countries, in Africa and elsewhere, actively seek donations of CPAP and similar breathing devices no longer needed because the user has died, no longer needs respiratory assistance, or is willing to tolerate some snoring if it can save lives in other countries, especially in regions which do have a reliable supply of electricity.