Government must have early Covid response to medical oxygen crisis

Published: 00:00, Apr 23,2021


MEDICAL oxygen supply for Covid patients is reported to have run into trouble as oxygen is required in many of the 44 per cent of the Covid cases that need, as the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research says, hospital admission. There have already been 89,000 active cases in the country as of April 20. The demand for medical oxygen, in fact, far exceeded the production about a month ago, with import meeting a portion of the additional demand as hospitals faced a heightened rush of Covid patients who required oxygen. In the latest surge in Covid cases, beginning in March, more patients require oxygen as, physicians say, the oxygen saturation in patients declined even before they could feel anything. Oxygen producers are said to have warned of a likely decline in their supply as oxygen import was becoming increasingly difficult from India, where the demand for oxygen has also abnormally increased in some states. Inadequate transport facilities such as the shortage of tankers are reported to be obstructing oxygen import. Oxygen producers — there are three in Bangladesh — also complain that frequent power outage and disruption in gas supply have also stopped the oxygen plants to run to their full capacity, hampering the production and further intensifying the crisis.

One of the producers says that the demand for oxygen has increased 10 times after March which can in no way be met with local production. Such a state of affairs is reflective of under-preparedness or lack of preparedness on part of the government. While oxygen producers earlier sounded a warning about a likely decline in oxygen supply, health managers very well knew towards the end of 2020 that the situation could be grave in case of a resurge, or the second wave, of Covid infection, which was evident from what then took place in other countries going through the second wave. The health managers should have attended to the issue in time. Even now, the government can put in a bit more efforts to ensure a steady supply of power and gas to the oxygen plants so that oxygen production remains steady. This may not resolve the crisis altogether, but this will help to ease the situation. Oxygen producers also say that the industries use a significant portion of the oxygen produced, even up to 20 per cent and the government could order a ban on or limit the use of oxygen for industrial purposes which would ease the situation. India is reported to have recently restricted the industrial use of oxygen so that more oxygen could be supplied for the treatment of Covid patients.

The government must, therefore, immediately ensure an uninterrupted supply of power and gas to oxygen plants and restrict the industrial use of oxygen, at least temporarily, to increase the supply of oxygen for the treatment of Covid patients. It is said that an oxygen plant could be set up in a year. If the government had taken the initiative after Covid-19 broke out in March 2020, the situation would not have been so deplorable now. The government must also plan the installation of an oxygen plant in the public sector as early as possible.

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