BALLABGARH, India – In late November, an urgent email popped up in the inbox of Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices, one of the largest syringe manufacturers in the world.
It was from UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, and they were desperately searching for the syringe. Not just any will do. These syringes should be smaller than normal. They must be demolished if used a second time, to prevent the spread of disease by accidental recycling.
Most importantly, UNICEF needs them in large numbers. The current.
Rajiv Nath, the company’s chief executive officer, said: “I think,“ No problem, ”who invested millions of dollars in preparing his syringe factories for the attack. public vaccination. “We can deliver it can be faster than anyone else.”
As countries jostle to secure enough vaccine doses to end the Covid-19 outbreak, a second scramble is afoot over the syringe. Vaccines are not all that useful if health care professionals lack a way to inject them.
“A lot of countries have been caught in the act,” said Ingrid Katz, deputy director of the Harvard Institute of Global Health. “It seems the basic irony that the countries of the world are not fully prepared to have these types of syringes.”
Experts say that the world needs between 8 billion and 10 billion syringes to vaccinate Covid-19. In previous years, only 5% to 10% of the estimated 16 billion syringes used worldwide were used for vaccination and immunization, said Prashant Yadav, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. says Washington, a consulting organization and a health expert. care supply chain.
Richer countries like the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany pump billions of dollars in taxes into vaccine development, Yadav said, but there is little public investment to expand production. syringe.
“I am concerned not only about the overall production capacity of the syringe but also the capacity for specific syringes, and whether the syringes are already in the places where they are needed,” he said.
Not all syringes in the world are suitable for the task.
For example, to maximize output from a vial of Pfizer vaccine, a syringe must have the correct dosage of 0.3 milliliters. The syringes should also have a low dead space – the smallest distance between the plunger and the needle after sufficient doses – to minimize waste.
The industry has thrived in response to the demand. Becton Dickinson, based in New Jersey and a major syringe maker, said it will spend $ 1.2 billion over four years to partially expand capacity in response to the pandemic.
According to research firm Fitch Solutions, the US is the largest supplier of syringes in the world. The United States and China are present in exports, with total annual exports worth $ 1.7 billion. While India is a small country globally, with exports of just $ 32 million in 2019, Hindustan Syringes’ Mr. Nath sees a big opportunity.
Each of his syringes sells for only three cents, but his total investment is substantial. He invested nearly $ 15 million to mass produce specialty syringes, about one-sixth of his annual revenue, before orders came. In May, he ordered new molds from suppliers in Italy, Germany and Japan to make a variety of barrels and plungers for his syringes.
Mr. Nath added 500 workers to his production line, which makes more than 5,900 syringes per minute at factories spanning 11 acres in a dusty industrial park outside New Delhi. With Sunday and holiday breaks, the company makes almost 2.5 billion a year, though it plans to scale up to three billion by July.
Hindustan Syringes has a long history of providing UNICEF vaccination programs in some of the poorest countries where syringe reuse is pervasive and one of the main sources of fatal infection. including HIV and hepatitis.
In late December, when the World Health Organization removed the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use, Robert Matthews, UNICEF’s contract director in Copenhagen, and his team needed to find a manufacturer that could produce millions. syringe.
“We were exclaimed,” Matthews said. ”Mr. Matthews said as they were looking for a syringe that met WHO specifications and was compact for shipping. Hindustan Syringes, he said, was the first.
UNICEF said the company will ship those 3.2 million syringes soon on the condition they have to check the quality again.
Mr. Nath said he sold 50 million syringes to the Japanese government and more than 400 million syringes to India to provide the Covid-19 vaccination service, one of the largest in the world. More people are lining up, including UNICEF, for which he has offered to build another 240 million, and Brazil, he said.
Inside the company’s No. 6 Factory, the machines covered with a yellow paint make a noisy noise as they spit out plastic barrels and pistons. Other machines, from Bergamo, Italy, assemble each part, including the needle, which is monitored by sensors and cameras. Workers in blue protective suits check the trays filled with syringes before unloading them into boxes they carry with their hands to the packing area next to them.
To increase efficiency, Mr. Nath relied on syringe design by Marc Koska, a British inventor of safe injections and the ability to manufacture all ingredients in-house. Hindustan Syringes produces needles from stainless steel strips imported from Japan. The strips are rolled into cylinders and welded at the seams, then stretched and cut into small capillaries, the machine will be glued to the plastic shafts. To make the stab less painful, they are dipped in a silicone solution.
The syringe business is a “blood sucker,” Nath said, in which upfront costs are phenomenal and the profits are very low. If demand for his syringe drops even in half over the next few years, he will lose almost the full $ 15 million that he has invested.
It is clearly a frugal activity. The blue carpet in Mr. Nath’s office looks as old as his desk or the glass chandeliers next to the stairs, furniture that his father placed in 1984, before he handed the company over to Mr. Nath and family.
A family business is exactly how he likes it. No shareholders, no interference, no worries. In 1995, when Mr. Nath needed money to increase production and buy new machines, he looked for private capital for the first time. If that were the case, he said, he wouldn’t be able to track his intestines and produce his syringes on this huge scale.
“You have a good night’s sleep,” said Nath. “It is better to become a big fish in a small pond.”