Third Eye

Get to the bottom of new oxygen scam

Thursday, April 22nd, 2021 00:00 |
A worker fills oxygen cylinders for hospital use on Covid-19 coronavirus patients at a plant in Allahabad on Saturday. Photo/AFP

On March 29, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe delivered grim news on the country’s coronavirus status.

He said ICU beds in Nairobi and its environs were full and even if one managed to get space, they were not guaranteed to find oxygen in the health institutions. 

Oxygen is crucial in the treatment of Covid-19; it is essential when patients are struggling to breathe; it is as important as the drugs being administered on the patient.

So, when the report was delivered that the country had run out of oxygen, patients and their loved ones went into a panic.

The days that followed came with revelations that actually there was oxygen but suppliers did not have cylinders to store the precious commodity.

However, it has now become apparent that poor planning, bureaucracy and lack of foresight among government officials played a role in pushing the country to the brink.

Reports indicate when the pandemic was gathering momentum mid last year, donors approached the ministry with an oxygen project they were willing to fund and it would have resolved the oxygen issue.

The strategy, dubbed Oxygen Access in Kenya Health Facilities, was formulated and fully funded by the Clinton Health Access Initiative.

The programme that aimed at covering procurement, storage and supply of medical oxygen to public hospitals was developed by the donors in conjunction with the ministry as early as June last year.

After committing millions of shillings, a project manager said this week: “Nobody knows what happened that made the ministry and the National Treasury pull out of the programme that was to be fully funded by the World Bank, French government and other donors.”

What happened is the subject of speculation but the whole arrangement reeks of incompetency, lethargy and corruption on the part of government. Why would the State turn down such a noble project that would save lives at a time when the National Treasury is struggling with revenues?

What alternatives did the government officials put in place to ensure availability of the precious gas?

It’s beyond belief that people entrusted with protecting lives can be so myopic.

Not only would the government have helped desperate patients, it would also have channelled resources used to procure emergency oxygen to other initiatives. 

At the minimum, a probe should be conducted to ascertain what really went wrong.

Those found culpable should not only be punished but also banished from public service.

More on Third Eye