State intensifies efforts to set up oxygen plants in hospitals

Wednesday, October 6th, 2021 00:00 |
Project Manager for the Covid-19 Emergency Response Project Dr Anne Ng’ang’a with Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral & Research Hospital board representative Gladys Ogallo, cut the ribbon to mark the installation of a 20,000-litre oxygen plant at the facility in Nairobi, last week. Photo/PD/Mathew Ndungu

Hospital-based medical oxygen plants have emerged as a game changer in the ongoing fight against Covid-19, a battle that relies heavily on patients’ access to the  expensive commodity.

The news comes even as the Ministry of Health (MoH) intensified efforts towards setting up hospital-based oxygen plants across the country.

Last week, the ministry commissioned a 20,000-litre capacity oxygen tank at Kenyatta University Teaching Referral and Research Hospital (KUTRRH) and plans to commission a similar tank at Mbagathi Hospital tomorrow.

The two tanks were procured under the Covid-19 Health Emergency Response Project (C-HERP), a programme funded jointly by the government and World Bank.

Since March 2020 when the first case of Covid-19 was detected in the country, Kenya has largely been able to avoid catastrophic oxygen shortages.

However, according to C-HERP Project Manager, Anne Ng’ang’a, the country has experienced several incidents of oxygen scarcity especially during Covid infection spikes.

This was witnessed in July and part of August when the fourth wave of the pandemic caused by the deadly Delta variant struck.

“Currently, oxygen is the number one need for patients. We are working with counties through the Council of Governors (CoG) to identify needy facilities and support them,” Ng’ang’a told People Daily in an interview.

Her sentiments were echoed by KUTRRH chief executive, Victor Njom, who said such installations will come in handy during Covid-19 infection spikes.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said the installation of oxygen plants and tanks is part of wider efforts by the government and its development partners to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are committed to ensuring a proper medical oxygen infrastructure is in place as a critical healthcare intervention for patients in need of supplementary oxygen,” he said.

Top on the list is the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) oxygen plant, the largest hospital-based oxygen-generating plant in Kenya.

The plant was installed by the Ministry of Health (MoH) last month under the C-HERP project and generates 2,000 litres of oxygen per minute.

According to Carolyne Sang, the acting Director for Nursing Services at MTRH, the plant has made it possible to have piped oxygen in all units where services are delivered making it easy for health practitioners to save lives.

“This plant has come at a very crucial moment because we all know that with the Covid-19 pandemic, the demand for oxygen went up.

As MTRH, I must say that this plant is most welcome because going forward, the issue of unavailability of oxygen will be a thing of the past,” she said.

On average, 200 patients at MTRH need oxygen every day, according to Sang. Of these, Covid-19 patients range between 28 and 40 years depending on whether there is an infection wave or not.

MTRH is the second largest referral facility in the country with bed occupancy of 1,200 and attending to an average of 1,600 outpatients daily.

Similarly, the Meru Level-5 Hospital oxygen plant commissioned in July has significantly alleviated oxygen shortages at the facility and the larger Upper Eastern region.

The plant generates 480 litres of oxygen a minute, almost six times more than the older one which yielded only 90 litres of oxygen a minute.

Bernard Sande, a component lead with the C-HERP project, says oxygen assistance to the health facilities has taken two forms: Helping hospitals that already have oxygen tanks to keep them replenished and supplying oxygen cylinders to hospitals that do not have tanks. 

Hospitals that already have oxygen tanks include Coast Province General Hospital, Kiambu Level 5 Hospital, Thika Level 5 Hospital, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital, and Tigoni Level 4 Hospital.

Currently, some 14 hospitals across the country are being supplied with oxygen cylinders under the C-HERP project while another 12 health facilities have oxygen installation works  ongoing.

As of March this year, the country’s demand for oxygen stood at 880 tonnes up from 410 tonnes before the pandemic, according to the Ministry of Health.

When Covid-19 was first announced in Kenya in March last year, very few hospitals in the country had liquid oxygen supply posing a major challenge to the fight against the virus.

Ordinary Kenyans lived in anxiety fearing that a surge in infections could see the demand for oxygen outstrip supply resulting in huge fatalities as witnessed in other parts of the world.

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