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March 13, 2006

The ventilator shortfall

The New York Times has a disturbing article: Too Few Ventilators for Bird Flu Crisis. The US has about 105,000 ventilators, almost all of which are used in a regular flu season. But a worst-case pandemic would create the need for 742,500 ventilators.

"This is a life-or-death issue, and it reflects everything else that's wrong about our pandemic planning," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. "The government puts out a 400-page plan, but we don't have any ventilators and there isn't much chance we're going to get them."

A typical hospital ventilator costs $30,000, and hospitals, operating on thin profit margins, say they cannot afford to buy and store hundreds of units that may never be used. Cheaper alternatives can be deployed in a crisis, but doctors say they are grossly inadequate to deal with a flu pandemic.

Congress authorized only $3.8 billion of the $7.1 billion that Mr. Bush requested for flu preparedness, and nearly 90 percent of it is earmarked for vaccines and the antiviral drug Tamiflu. Buying enough ventilators for a flu outbreak like that of 1918 would cost $18 billion.

Posted by dymaxion at March 13, 2006 09:51 PM

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