Oxygen crisis hits hospitals as Kenyans hoard cylinders

Tuesday, March 30th, 2021 00:00 |
Association of Medical Engineering of Kenya secretary general Eng Millicent Alooh (right) addresses journalists at Uhuru Park, in Nairobi, yesterday over oxygen shortage in the country. She is with her National Union of Biomedical Engineers of Kenya counterpart Peter Ayieko. Photo/PD/George Kebaso

Kenyans are hoarding about 20,000 oxygen cylinders, occasioning an acute shortage of oxygen needed by hundreds of Covid-19 patients, it emerged yesterday.

Marion Mwangi, the chief executive officer, BOC Gases Kenya, the principal manufacturer of oxygen cylinders in the country, revealed that the missing cylinders are either in the hands of individuals or health facilities.

She said that ordinarily, the company gets back at least 1,000 oxygen cylinders everyday for refilling but the number has recently dropped significantly.

“We need to get cylinders for refilling, but due to the demand for the commodity, which has shot up like five times the normal requirement, the number of cylinders being returned has dropped recently as well,” she told People Daily last evening as 137 patients lay in Intensive Care Units with 36 on ventilator support, and 91 on supplemental oxygen.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe consequently appealed to Kenyans hoarding the oxygen cylinders to surrender them to manufacturers so they could refill and supply them to hospitals.

“I wish to make an appeal to those holding cylinders, be they hospital facilities or individuals in other sectors, please return those cylinders to manufacturers so they can refill and use them in hospitals that need them.

Remember oxygen is not just a precious commodity in the fight against the virus, it can actually mean life and death to our people,” the CS pleaded.

The CS noted that the oxygen supply chain had been disrupted. “Availability remains low in public health facilities at 16 per cent, and where available, the supply is not optimal and lacks the necessary distribution and delivery infrastructure,” Kagwe said.

The minister said that the ICUs have been receiving a huge number of patients, especially in Nairobi.

“One of the critical components in the fight against this virus is the oxygen supply to our patients.

As of today, the number of patients admitted in hospitals has shot up to 1,270 in various hospitals, while 4,620 patients are on home-based isolation and care.

He said before Covid-19 struck, the market demand for the commodity was 410 tonnes a day.

“By mid-last year, this demand had gone up to 560 tonnes and currently the demand is 880 tonnes, more than double the demand at the same period last year.

This demand has come with other challenges, namely efficiency in distribution of oxygen gas cylinders brought about by hoarding of cylinders,” he added.

Critical patients

There are 73 oxygen plants in both national and county facilities across the country, he said. Kagwe, however, noted that majority of the plants service one to three units within a facility.

He further noted that many of the plants face a number of challenges including production of oxygen with lower than recommended concentration levels.

“Indeed, assessment on concentration levels of oxygen produced from these plants shows that there is a significant variation from the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and global ISO standards, with some producing below the 96 per cent that the case management team from the Covid-19 taskforce has recommended,” the CS said.

Subsequently, he urged county governments to prioritise interventions aimed at enhancing oxygen capacity in all facilities.

The enhancement, he said, should include improvement of on-site gas manufacturing as well as piping of this life saving commodity to those who need them in the facilities.

“I am aware the demand for oxygen across the country has placed a burden on manufacturers to prioritise life-saving medical gas manufacturing at the expense of other sectors that also need industrial gas,” he said.

People Daily established that more than ten oxygen plants in both public and private hospitals are currently not working.

This means that the fate of critical patients urgently needing oxygen hangs in the balance. Kagwe warned that it was going to be difficult to save lives if the oxygen shortage is not addressed urgently. 

He said the country is running low onquality cylinders in health facilities.

He spoke yesterday after biomedical engineers advised both the national and county governments to channel all efforts towards ensuring that oxygen is available in all the referral health facilities in Kenya.

“We need oxygen liquid tanks to be installed across the 47 counties,” Millicent Alooh, Association of Medical Engineering of Kenya (Amek) secretary general, said.

“I don’t think people appreciate just how important it is that we have cylinders lying around when people are dying because of lack of oxygen,” Kagwe said.

He noted that there are facilities that are using a cylinder per patient, which should not be the case. According to Kagwe, one cylinder can be used by a number of people if the oxygen is piped to the bedsides.

More on News