SHORTAGE

Crisis looms as hospitals run low on oxygen supply

Total requirement for the industry was about 410 tonnes as per last year

In Summary

• The focus is now on both county and national health facilities to ensure they have piped oxygen to the bed sites

• The government has now called on individuals holding cylinders at home, those idle in health facilities and other institutions to release them

The government has moved with speed to put in place measures to ensure a steady supply of oxygen in hospitals amid fears of low supplies and increasing demand.

The government has moved with speed to put in place measures to ensure steady supply of oxygen in hospitals amid fears of low supplies and increasing demand.

According to the Health Ministry, the total production and requirement for the industry was about 410 tonnes as per last year.

But with the rising cases of critical care patients in need of oxygen in the country, that has quickly gone up to about 560 tonnes in January and the country is now heading for demand of double the last year figure at 880 tonnes.

Some 121 patients were admitted to ICUs on Sunday with Covid-19 complications.

From the number, 32 were on ventilatory support, while 82 were on supplemental oxygen. Seven more patients were under observation. 

Another 88 patients are separately on supplementary oxygen, with 76 of them in the general wards and 12 in the high dependency units.

“The situation at the moment is such that the industry is completely stretched and if we go any further than that then some immediate steps will have to be taken,” Health CS Mutahi Kagwe said.

The government has now called on individuals holding cylinders at home, those idle in health facilities and other institutions to release them as requirement for oxygen is critical, to allow for refill.

It is estimated that more than 20,000 cylinders are lying idle in various hands in the country. Each cylinder costs roughly Sh40,000.

“These cylinders are expensive, the international market is obviously very squeezed now and supply is a problem. We have asked for them under the public health act that please return these cylinders as it is a matter of life and death at the moment,” Kagwe said.

“There are a lot of facilities with idle cylinders and I don’t think people are appreciating just how important it is not to have cylinders lying around when people are dying because of lack of oxygen.” 

The focus is now on both county and national health facilities to ensure they have piped oxygen to the bed sites, with the CS saying that in a lot of facilities, individual cylinders are being used per patient where there is an oxygen cylinder sitting next to a patient. This, the CS said, is not only inefficient but also dangerous.

“It is inefficient because one cylinder can be used by a number of people if the oxygen has been piped to the bed sites so we are asking our facilities both county and national government facilities to fast-track the piping of oxygen to bed outlets so that we can use some of those cylinders and begin to fill some of them.”

The ministry is in talks with the National Treasury to help address the issue with the possibility of lowering taxes on gas cylinders.

Kenya has at least 70 oxygen plants, most of them not working. There is a plan to standardise the oxygen plants after it emerged that some do not even have spare parts despite efforts to ensure they become operational as soon as possible.

“We have also appreciated that it is not just enough that we produce oxygen, the purity  and quality of oxygen is also very important and the industry is taking certain measures to ensure that the quality of oxygen that we get is what is required,” the CS said.

The Pharmacy and Poisons Board has been tasked with ensuring that certification of gas suppliers is fast-tracked to increase capacity, with the ministry working on a policy to ensure lease of plants rather than purchase.