A YEAR TO PREPARE

Oxygen shortage blamed on poor planning, selfishness

Health CS Kahwe appeals to those hoarding cylinders to release them to ease suffering

In Summary

• The country faces acute shortage of oxygen as number of Covid patients needing critical care and oxygen increases.

• Oxygen plants in some hospitals broken, individuals hoard oxygen cylinders for possible personal use.

Oxygen plant at Busia County Referral Hospital.
BREATH OF LIFE: Oxygen plant at Busia County Referral Hospital.
Image: GILBERT OCHIENG

Medics have blamed the acute oxygen shortage in the country on lack of planning and proper forecasting by government.

About half of the hospital oxygen plants are broken need repair. Only 42 of 58 countrywide are functioning.

Despite having a year to plan, no one considered fixing them. 

Many individuals hoard oxygen cylinders —each costing about Sh40,000—for their their possible personal use while patients gasp for breath. It is estimated more than 20,000 cylinders are lying idle.

CS Mutahe Kagwe has appealed to individuals to surrender cylinders to patients who need them

The shortage has worsened as the number of critically ill Covid-19 patients increases in the third wave of the pandemic.

Lack of preparation is everywhere and includes a shortage of ICU beds, with deposits as high as Sh300,000 required by some hosiers.

Reports indicate just 30 critical care beds are available to the public within the five locked down counties of Nairobi, Machakos, Nakuru, Kajiado and Kiambu.

Medics have said a lot of money has been spent on planning and  preparedness. They called it "ridiculous" that one year into the pandemic, there's still a shortage of oxygen and other essentials.

“We have had over one year and a lot of investment running into billions from our partners and the government to prepare for and tackle the Covid-19 pandemic,” Kenya Medical Association president Were Onyino said on Thursday.

“What is worrying is that as we speak, the five counties locked down have only 30 beds available to the public," he said.

"Most of the public are actually suffering and are being made to deposit as much as Sh300,000 to access an ICU bed,” he added.

Most health facilities in the country have been hit with the oxygen shortage, including the Kenyatta National Hospital.

The management says despite having received 3,000 litres of oxygen as a top up supporting day-to-day operations, that's not enough.

The hospital now requires 8,000 litres per day.

Other county referral hospitals have  been scaling down on their operations. Some elective surgeries have been been put on hold to make room for emergencies only.

“We knew these patients, about 15 per cent afflicted by Covid will need oxygen and ICU care. We cannot be talking about a shortage of oxygen in this country. That tells you there is lack of planning and lack of forecasting," Onyino said.

Council of Governors data shows there are only 58 oxygen plants distributed across the 47 counties. Only 42 are functioning.

CoG health committee chairman Anyang' Ngong’o said 2,828 oxygen cylinders and 730 concentrators are also available. He said 3,601 isolation beds have been connected to oxygen across the 47 counties.

“These chaos will continue and we will continue suffering as the public if the leadership in the Ministry of Health does not sit down with us as professionals in the sector and address this issue," Onyino said.

"The crisis is coming as a result of poor  planning because we cannot be talking about a third wave where there is no oxygen yet we have had more than one year to plan."

The Health ministry said the total oxygen requirement was about 410 tonnes last year. It was 560 tonnes in January and the country is likely to need 880 tonnes this year.

(Edited by V. Graham)