Revealed: Warning by medical experts over ventilators sold to Hungary by Malaysian businessman

Authorities in UK had withdrawn hundreds of units while those in Colombia instructed the removal of others after a number of patient deaths.

(MalaysiaNow) – A Malaysian businessman given a multi-billion contract to supply medical equipment to the government of Hungary in 2020 had sold ventilators that British doctors warned could endanger the lives of patients, MalaysiaNow can reveal.

The China-made ventilator models “Shangrila 510S” and “SH300” were among thousands sold to Hungary by Vinod Sekhar, a Malaysian businessman close to PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim, and who operates a chain of companies and organisations under the Petra Group.

Vinod is the subject of a money laundering investigation launched by multiple agencies including the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which raided the Petra Group office in Bangsar last November.

Information provided to MalaysiaNow from Hungarian investigative journalists showed that the two ventilator models were among 6,258 units bought by Budapest in a controversial deal approved by the European country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A copy of the agreement sighted by MalaysiaNow showed that Budapest had agreed to pay Vinod’s GR Technologies Sdn Bhd a total of US$559,600,000, which at the time of the contract in May 2020 converted to about RM2.43 billion.

Warning from UK doctors

But just a month before the agreement, senior British doctors had warned that ventilators of the “Shangrila” type that the UK bought from China were faulty, and could cause harm or even deaths if used in hospitals.

They pointed out problems with maintenance and oxygen supply as well as confusing instruction manuals, adding that the ventilators were built for use in ambulances, not hospitals.

“We believe that if used, significant patient harm, including death, is likely,” NBC News quoted a group of senior doctors writing in a letter dated April 13, 2020.

“We look forward to the withdrawal and replacement of these ventilators with devices better able to provide intensive care ventilation for our patients,” the letter added.

Some five months later, a 60-page report issued by the UK auditor-general on the purchase of ventilators for government hospitals in response to the Covid-19 pandemic confirmed the fears.

The report revealed that the Department of Health and Social Care had withdrawn 750 units of the “Shangrila 510S” ventilators, and cancelled a further purchase of 1,250 units from the manufacturer in Beijing.

“It withdrew the device, however, in response to concerns raised by some clinicians who, after testing the devices, did not consider them appropriate for use within an intensive care setting,” said the audit report, adding that the claim was confirmed by a clinical due diligence team.

The withdrawal of the 750 ventilators, procured for about £3,000 each, cost the UK government a total of £2.2 million (RM12.4 million).

Fatal ventilators in Colombia

At about the same time the UK audit report was released, health authorities in Colombia issued a warning that use of another ventilator model, the SH300, could be fatal, with at least six patient deaths linked to it.

Colombia’s National Institute for Food and Drug Surveillance instructed the removal of the SH300 after it found that the ventilator would stop or shut down unexpectedly, as well as deliver wrong data, citing compatibility issues as well.

It said it had been notified of 34 serious incidents caused by the ventilators involving 12 hospitals treating Covid-19 patients since July 2020.

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