Menacing second wave has hit the country. Do we have enough oxygen?

Ashim Neupane

  • Read Time 3 min.

Oxygen plants in state-run hospitals are defunct. Private sector suppliers say there will be a shortage of oxygen cylinders if cases rise

Kathmandu: Although severe Covid-19 cases are increasing at an alarming rate, the government is yet to repair oxygen plants that produce live-saving supplementary oxygen in state-run hospitals. As per the data of the Ministry of the Health and Population, state-run hospitals have 30 plants to produce supplementary oxygen for patients with respiratory problems. However, only 15 state-run hospitals have functional oxygen plants, but they are also not running at full capacity.

“Currently, 15 state-run hospitals have functional oxygen plants. As the number of patients with serious infection is increasing, we [the ministry] have been discussing with the private sector oxygen producers for the smooth supply of life-saving oxygen,” said Dr Samir Adhikari, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Population.

Adhikari said it is not possible to repair and maintain oxygen plants at the earliest.

Doctors and public health experts say the government needs to repair oxygen plants at the earliest as private sector suppliers have been saying that there will be a massive shortage of oxygen cylinders amid increasing number of Covid-19 cases.

Public health experts have called on the government to repair those plants without any delay.

“As oxygen suppliers have already predicted that there will be shortage of oxygen cylinders, the government needs to act fast and repair plants, which supplies oxygen directly to beds,” said Sarad Onta, a public health expert.

According to the Nepal Oxygen Industry Association (NOIA), their members have nearly 75,000 oxygen cylinders. “We have already submitted a proposal to import almost 40,000 oxygen cylinders within one-two months. However, the government needs to ease the import process and exempt tax at the time of pandemic,” Gaurav Sarda, president of NOIA told Nepal Live Today.

“We have seen how India is facing a massive shortage of oxygen cylinders. We have to stay prepared to fight the worst as the government has already predicted that there would be more than 11,000 daily cases in May. We have already planned to increase the number of cylinders, but the government needs to act,” he said.

Currently, oxygen plants of only four hospitals are in operation in the Kathmandu Valley.

According to Dr Adhikari, the Ministry of Health and Population has already asked the Ministry of Finance to exempt duty by a certain percent on the import of oxygen cylinders. “We [health ministry] are preparing to tackle the worst, and the suppliers have already ensured that there would be no shortage of oxygen. We are only worried about oxygen cylinders,” he said.

As heartbreaking images of people searching for oxygen cylinders are emerging from India, people here have also started hoarding cylinders sensing possible shortage. “We have urged our members not to hoard cylinders. They are only allowed to keep cylinders for a week,” said Sarda.

According to the data of the Health Ministry, the number of patients in ICU has increased by 83 percent, and ventilation support by 71 percent in the last six days. The number is increasing every day. On April 23, the number of patients in ICU and ventilation support was 173 and 57, respectively, which increased to 317 and 97 on April 27.
According to Teku Hospital, the number of serious Covid-19 patients has increased by a significant number in the second wave of pandemic. “Currently, there are 65 Covid-19 patients in Teku Hospital, and 55 are on oxygen support,” said Dr Sagar Raj Bhandari, director at Teku Hospital.

Currently, oxygen plants of only four hospitals are in operation in the Kathmandu Valley.

The oxygen plants of Teku Hospital, Trauma Hospital, Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, and Paropakar Maternity and Women’s Hospital are in operation. They are also not in operation in full capacity, according to the hospitals.

There are three oxygen plants in Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, two with the capacity of producing 500 liters of oxygen per minute, and one with 1,000 liters a minute. The big plant is non-functional.

There are 20 oxygen plants–eight in Kathmandu Valley and 12 in various other districts–across the country run by the private sector. “Even though plants in government hospitals are defunct, we can ensure supply, but only if there are enough oxygen cylinders,” said Sarda.

Public health expert Onta says the government should have repaired the oxygen plants earlier on, even though there was no pandemic. “Patients with other medical conditions such as asthma also need oxygen support. The government is acting too late,” said Onta.