“Made in Mexico” ventilators could save many American lives

Baja California factories shifting production to medical devices to confront the coronavirus as demand for ventilators goes up 1,000 percent.

As San Diego hospitals brace for a critical shortage of ventilators, Tijuana business developers are racing against time to produce low-cost machines to meet the cross-border regional need.

Tijuana Mayor Arturo González said demand for ventilators to the city’s 48 medical device manufacturers has increased by 1,000 percent amid the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

Tijuana Mayor Arturo González

Mexico has become one of the main suppliers of medical devices to North America in the last 20 years, said Luis de la Calle, a former undersecretary in Mexico’s Ministry of Economy. Most of the ventilators made in Mexico are exported to the U.S., he added.

Ventilator capacity has become a growing concern worldwide, especially as COVID-19 overwhelmed supply in Italy and Spain, forcing doctors to choose who to save and who to let die.

The life-saving machines effectively breathe for patients struggling the hardest against the pneumonia caused by the coronavirus.

Some leaders in Mexico see its production abilities as an opportunity for the Baja California region to be part of the solution to the worldwide coronavirus crisis and recoup some of the economic damage of a shutdown.

Others say Baja California — already an international leader in medical device manufacturing — needs to focus on producing ventilators for its own residents first, after coronavirus cases and deaths have gone up in recent days. The state had 58 confirmed cases and at least four deaths from the disease as of Friday April 3rd.

Mario Escobedo Carignan

Baja California Secretary of Economy Mario Escobedo Carignan said the state will need at least another 1,000 to 1,500 ventilators for its own residents. The majority of the ventilators currently in Baja California are not from local manufacturers.

Three companies in Baja California specifically produce ventilators, but those products are sold around the world, he said. Overall the medical device sector provides 71,000 jobs in Baja California.

Escobedo said Mexico faces unprecedented concerns about the health of its population while confronting the coronavirus, making it necessary for businesses, the government and local leaders to adopt a more nationalistic mindset.

The federal government enacted regulations last week permitting only essential workers to continue operations. Medical device manufacturing is considered essential work, Escobedo said, but there’s a caveat.

“Obviously, all medical device manufacturing is considered essential, but only if you are selling to Mexico,” he said. “The possibility of our workers contracting COVID-19 and risking their lives and the community is only going to be permitted if what they’re doing is essential to Mexico.”

“If what a company is doing is essential to Australia or to New Zealand, we’re going to have to suspend that process,” he continued, “and we’re checking that all medical device companies are selling to Mexico. They don’t have to sell a lot to Mexico, only a percentage, and if they want to expand their production, we will do anything we can to help them expand.”

He noted that Mexico’s president had inquired specifically about Baja California companies that could sell their products to the federal government after local demand was met.

Flavio Olivieri

Flavio Olivieri, an economic development specialist and director of the Cali Baja Bi-National Mega-Region, a cross-border business group, said Tijuana manufacturing companies could consider donating a percentage of the ventilators they make for U.S. clients to Mexico’s local and state governments.

“Our focus is tapping into the local capacities of mid-size contract manufacturing companies in Tijuana to produce a low-cost ventilator for regional needs,” said Olivieri.

Companies across California and Baja California, from those that build rockets to those that supply energy, are quickly trying to shift their production capabilities to ventilators.

U.S. medical device firm Hillrom is starting to build ventilators in Tijuana, while Vyaire Medical in Mexicali is boosting production of their ventilator parts, Reuters reported.

San Diego County officials said the collective ventilator capacity in local hospitals, excluding those run by the military, currently stands at 826. In Baja California, there are about 200 of the machines in both the public and private health sectors to serve some 3.3 million residents.

Baja California’s medical device industry has seen demand skyrocket for ventilators and disposable personal protection equipment like gowns, masks and caps, said Jazmin Jimenez, the director of a cluster of medical product manufacturers in Baja California.

“Currently, based on the list of needs we have received for medical devices necessary for the pandemic, I am looking for companies that can develop these devices in Baja California,” said Jimenez, who also worked as an engineer for Thermo Fisher, the company praised by President Donald Trump for ramping up production of coronavirus test kits.

Luis Hernandez, the president of INDEX, or the Association of the Maquiladora and Export Industry in Baja California

Luis Hernandez, the president of INDEX, or the Association of the Maquiladora and Export Industry in Baja California, said medical device manufacturing companies need help from the United States in encouraging Mexican officials to allow them to continue to expand operations.

He said some companies are meeting too much red tape to expand quickly enough.

“Pick up the phone and call Mexico’s president or the state governor and let them know this is essential work right now,” said Hernandez.

Escobedo said the coronavirus pandemic is going to cause countries and companies around the world to rethink how they operate.

For example, he said most of the medical devices produced in Baja California are shipped to Costa Rica to be sterilized there and then shipped back before being sold. Now, two companies in Baja California are changing their operations to sterilize the products locally.

“We need to save lives and we need to save as many as we can now,” said Escobedo.

Source: San Diego Union Tribune

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