KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 – Ministry of Health (MOH) officials decided to proceed with the procurement of ventilators from China, despite having no prior experience, based on the visual impression that the ventilators in the brochure met MOH requirements.
Dr Mohamed Hirman Abdullah, MOH senior principal assistant director (medical development division), told Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that global Covid lockdowns left them no alternative but to consider ventilators from China for the first time.
“The domestic supply of ventilators through local distributors was also severely limited, which prompted us to consider Chinese ventilators.
“In the brochure, which had been verified by the specifications committee at that time, the ventilators appeared to meet our standards. However, when the products arrived, that was another story,” Dr Hirman said, according to meeting transcripts dated August 22, published in PAC’s Covid-19 management report tabled in Parliament yesterday.
Dr Hirman said once the ventilators arrived, they failed the testing and commission (T&C) process, even though the specifications had been reviewed by MOH experts based on the provided brochure. The problematic ventilators only became workable after undergoing an upgrade.
“I mean, both the hardware and software were also problematic. Only after the ventilators went through refurbishment and upgrading that about a quarter of them became usable.”
Pharmaniaga Logistics Sdn Bhd (PLSB), the company in charge of payment, delivery, and, to some extent, repair and upgrade of the Chinese ventilators, reported that out of the 136 ventilators purchased from China for RM20.12 million, 104 of them are unusable.
PLSB is a fully-owned subsidiary of local pharmaceutical company Pharmaniaga Bhd.
The procurement involved 11 ventilator models from four different manufacturers – Newport, Leji, Puao, and Zibo. These ventilators were sourced from four different suppliers, namely Entrol (Hong Kong) Trading Ltd, Hong Kong Smart Int. Investment Ltd, Nantong Angel Medical Inst. Co. Ltd, and Allied King Industrial.
The 136 procured ventilators from China include:
- Newport’s NewPort Respirator E360 (4 units)
- Leji’s Nanjing Superstar 900B (25 units)
- Puao’s Nanjing Superstar 700B (35 units)
- Zibo’s Nanjing Superstar 550H (13 units)
- Leji’s Nanjing Superstar 8800 (16 units)
- Leji’s Nanjing Superstar 8400 (1 unit)
- Zibo’s ZXH550 (3 units)
- Leji’s Nanjing Superstar 8800 (3 units)
- Zibo’s Nantong Angel ZXH550 (13 units)
- Leji’s Nantong Angel 8800 (7 units)
- Zibo’s ZXH600 (16 units)
PLSB chief operating officer Mohamed Iqbal Abdul Rahman said Newport and Zibo offered technical support, while Leji and Puao did not. All four of Newport’s E360 models were fully operational, and all seven of Leji’s Nantong Angel 8800 models were also functional.
Other models that passed T&C included 13 Leji Nanjing Superstar 900B units, two Leji Nanjing Superstar 8800 units, and six Zibo ZXH600 units.
The other 104 units, across brands, failed the T&C due to oxygen levels falling outside the acceptable range and an inability to detect PEEP (positive end-expiratory pressure).
In the PAC meeting on September 14, PLSB’s Iqbal detailed efforts to rectify the ventilator issues. This included an attempt to get national automaker Proton Holdings Bhd, leveraging on their partnership with Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, to engage with Chinese suppliers to fix the non-operational ventilators.
“This is because Proton was also involved in donating ventilators to the Malaysian government,” Iqbal said. However, Proton could not handle the repairs.
Consequently, PLSB suggested that the MOH appoint IDS Medical Systems (M) Sdn Bhd, a company with extensive experience in supplying and maintaining biomedical equipment in Southeast Asia, including equipment maintenance from China, to upgrade the ventilators.
IDS Medical System director Benjamin Low told the PAC in a meeting on September 21 that manufacturers in China failed to produce ventilators as advertised in their brochures.
MOH had chosen ventilators based on the specifications advertised, but the ventilators received turned out to be unusable because they did not meet the manufacturer’s specified specifications.
In an earlier meeting held on August 22, former MOH secretary-general Chen Chaw Min informed the PAC that all the ventilators purchased and received were brand new, not used. The China-made ventilators were purchased after due diligence was conducted by the MOH.
Chen said not all of the 136 ventilators purchased were non-functional.
He also mentioned that there were pre-purchase discussions about the differences in ventilator functionality compared to the models used in MOH hospitals, ranging from the system’s operating language to the power plugs.
“We know that in China, they use Mandarin in their system. Can our doctors use it or not? So, that’s our concern. The second concern is that these ventilators were designed for the local market in China, and so, even the voltage is different. Can we make some adjustments or not? These were the concerns we raised,” Chen said.
However, due to the emergency situation, Chen said they considered these issues as minor, and believed they could make the necessary adjustments.
“When we bought them, they were all brand new. We didn’t suspect that they were selling us inferior products. If their intention was to deceive us, I don’t know what we could have done.
“But that was the situation. We were in a hurry, and these were the only options available in the Chinese market. We received brochures that were verified by our technical experts, confirming that they met the specifications, so we proceeded with the purchase. These were all brand new, not secondhand,” Chen explained.
“We even borrowed ventilators from private hospitals, some of which were secondhand, and used them. We also received many donations, some from China. Some of these donations didn’t fully meet our requirements, but they were still valuable contributions.
“From Saudi Arabia, we were fortunate. Through government efforts, we contacted Saudi Arabia, and they donated approximately 150 units to us.
“This assistance helped us tremendously. That’s why, during the first and second waves of Covid-19, when the situation had improved, we stopped using the ventilators because we had more than enough. We didn’t want to commit to buying more, especially as Covid-19 kept evolving, and we needed other resources, like medicines,” Chen said.
“So, it was a very dynamic situation, Your Honourable.”