The safety of Russian-made medical ventilators sent in a shipment to the United States is being investigated by Moscow after two of the devices – used in the treatment of coronavirus patients – reportedly burst into flames, killing six people.
One fire killed five people in Saint George’s Hospital in St Petersburg on Tuesday. It is understood to have started with one of the ventilators being used in an intensive care unit, with four of the fire’s victims being treated for coronavirus, a local lawyer told the TASS news agency.
A similar fire – sparked by the same model of ventilator, according to a law enforcement source speaking to TASS – killed one person in a hospital in Moscow on Saturday.
The Aventa-M model ventilator was among those in a planeload of medical devices sent to the US from Russia – which has reported 2,116 deaths from coronavirus – at the start of April to help Washington cope with the pandemic, though it is made by a firm that is under US sanctions.
Radio-Electronic Technologies Concern (KRET), the owner of the subsidiary company that built the machines in question, said its ventilators had passed all necessary tests and had been used by medical facilities in Russia since 2012 without any safety concerns.
“We’re looking at different scenarios: the state of the [electricity] network, the medical institutions’ engineering infrastructure, the medical equipment, and compliance with fire safety rules,” it said in a statement.
“We call on the media and other interested parties not to rush to conclusions and wait for the results of official checks.”
US firms and nationals have been barred from doing business with KRET, which also produces electronic-warfare equipment, since July 2014, Bloomberg reported. The company has been on the US Specially Designated Nationals list since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
When Russia’s Ruptly news agency posted a video of the plane showing supplies being unloaded, a PhD student named Rob Lee spotted the devices and identified them.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) April 1, 2020
Russia split the costs of the devices sent to New York, billing the US more than $600,000 for its share, while the Kremlin’s sovereign wealth fund picked up the rest of the tab, ABC News reported.
The Ural Instrument Engineering Plant (UPZ) in Chelyabinsk, 1,500km (930 miles) east of Moscow, confirmed that the Aventa-M was one of its products and had been supplied to Saint George’s Hospital.
“We have no official data about which devices were installed in the zone of the St Petersburg fire,” a spokeswoman told Reuters.
Roszdravnadzor, Russia’s healthcare watchdog, said it would check the quality and safety of the ventilators in the two hospitals, while the St Petersburg hospital said it would stop using the model in question for now.
At least two Russian regions told Russian news agencies they would also suspend use of the ventilators.
Russia is relatively well stocked with ventilators, and has increased domestic production since the coronavirus outbreak.
Data experts and some medics say many machines in use outside Russia’s big cities are old – but TASS said the ventilator in St Petersburg was new and had been installed this month.