Panic as hospitals run out of oxygen

BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA

MEDICAL practitioners have called on government to urgently intervene and put measures in place to ensure adequate supply of oxygen as most health institutions in the country are constantly running out of the precious life-saving gas.

Doctors who spoke to The Standard yesterday said the demand for oxygen had skyrocketed while supplies had become intermittent owing to increasing pressure for the commodity. Critical Covid-19 patients need oxygen to resuscitate and sustain them during the acute stages of the respiratory disease.

As of yesterday, Zimbabwe had 25 368 confirmed Covid-19 cases, including 14 714 recoveries and 636 deaths.

Health expert Cletos Masiya said health institutions were facing serious oxygen shortages and patients were now resorting to utilising electric oxygen concentrators which were not as effective as using proper oxygen to help those with breathing problems.

He said suppliers of oxygen were limiting allocation to health institutions especially those in the private sector.

“We no longer have stocks for oxygen at our clinics as should be the normal situation,” Masiya said. “Every day we are now looking for oxygen and its allocation is now being limited by suppliers. Sometimes we go with 20 cylinders for refill, but only three get filled up, which indicates what a crisis we are in,” said Masiya.

Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association president Johannes Marisa said the surge in Covid-19 deaths was likely to be worsened by the shortage of oxygen if measures were not put in place to improve the situation.

“Demand for oxygen has gone very high while supply remains constant,” he said. “The majority of the patients who come to hospitals for admission have breathing problems, but they sometimes end up losing their lives which could have been saved, due to lack of oxygen,” he said.

Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Solwayo Ngwenya said since there was a continued increase in Covid-19 cases, the demand for oxygen would also rise. The current wave of Covid-19 was affecting the breathing system more than happened in the first wave, he said.

“In the first wave, many patients had mild symptoms, but with this current strain people come in urgent and dire need of oxygen,” Ngwenya said.

“The situation is not peculiar to Zimbabwe. Even in South Africa, some hospitals are reportedly running out of oxygen. Once the disease affects the lungs and causes massive fluid accumulation, people then fail to breathe normally and they need oxygen. The more infections we have, the higher the demand for oxygen.”

A finance director at one of the major gas suppliers BOC Gases Company, Lloyd Mutengwa, confirmed that the demand for oxygen had increased but said the company was still managing to meet the demand for the commodity.

“We have been supplying 50 tonnes of gas per week but due to the increased demand for the commodity, our supply has gone up to 70 tonnes per week which is around 40% demand increase. We are, however, in constant engagement with the government so that they continue monitoring the situation,” he said.

Mutengwa said they had set up bigger gas storage containers so that they stock increased volumes of oxygen, in preparation for the increased demand.

But a manager at another oxygen supply company who, however, requested anonymity, said his company had scaled down operations for industrial supply to meet the demand of clinical oxygen.

“We have scaled down industrial operation for the supply of gas so that we concentrate on meeting the demand for oxygen for health institutions,” he said.

Masiya also said pulse oximeters, machines used to check oxygen levels in the human body, were also in short supply as Covid-19 cases under home-based care were on the increase.

He said some drugs like antibiotics that were required for the treatment of some symptoms of Covid-19 were also running short due to panic-buying.

“People are overusing antibiotics, whether they are prescribed or not. We are getting to a situation where people will have their immune system resistant to the drugs due to overuse,” he said.

Health deputy minister John Mangwiro said he was attending a meeting.

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