Act quickly to end oxygen shortage
Reports that the country is facing an oxygen shortage could not have come at a worse time.
Medical oxygen is a major arsenal in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic that has so far claimed 2,117 lives and infected 130,214 people since the first case was reported in the country.
By yesterday evening, not fewer than 1,221 patients were admitted in various health facilities, out of which 121 were in intensive care, 32 of whom are on ventilatory support and 82 on supplemental oxygen.
Another 88 patients required oxygen support with 76 of them in the general wards and 12 in the High Dependency Unit.
The figures speak volumes on the need for adequate medical oxygen in all health facilities.
That the country is facing an oxygen crisis at a time the number of new infections has increased almost three-fold calls for urgent action and not mere lamentations by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe.
While oxygen supply has faced some challenges for many years, many hospitals do not have piped oxygen, leading to individual cylinders being used per patient, thus reducing efficiency and raising demand.
Those in the know say Kagwe is skirting around the main issue around the current shortage.
Whereas hoarding of cylinders could be part of the problem, the elephant in the room is production capacity of the precious gas.
Therefore, the current shortage is as a result of low production that cannot match the high demand.
Existing plants in high-demand facilities such as Kenyatta National Hospital, Mbagathi, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and all Level Four and Five hospitals are in a deplorable state that they have only been left in place perhaps to justify their expensive, yet unnecessary, existence.
There are also claims of some cartels having infiltrated the supply chain, thus hoarding the precious commodity with the usual Kenyan thirst to make a killing out of the dire situation.
What about effective regulation? The lack of policing has created an avenue for voracious individuals to flood the market with oxygen whose quality is suspect.
Racketeers are now filling cylinders with sub-standard oxygen for supply to desperate health facilities. The government should clamp down on racketeers and cartels.
However, the good news is that the government plans to invest heavily in oxygen production in 23 counties, a move that could essentially provide it with an opportunity to zero-rate medical oxygen for the benefit of millions of Kenyans.