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Oxygen shortages: Health Ministry issues denial, says there is a surplus

black and white X-ray Image of a human chest for a medical diagnosis pneumonia. Image credit: 80753349_l / 123rf
Image credit: 80753349_l / 123rf

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has said there are no medical oxygen shortages in the country.

Reports of oxygen shortages in the country have surfaced in recent weeks. Al Jazeera reports that multiple states severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh, have witnessed a threefold increase in demand for medical oxygen. BBC News has cautioned of an “oxygen scarcity” in India which is facing a rapid growth in the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or simply coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. The BBC News report states

“Demand for oxygen has risen exponentially. Hospitals and care centres are consuming up to around 2,700 tonnes of oxygen every day this month, compared to 750 tonnes in April, according to data obtained from All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association.”

The Al Jazeera report states that six percent of the country’s currently-infected patients are in need of medical oxygen, citing Rajesh Bhushan, a Secretary in the Union Health Ministry. “The problem happens when at a facility level, if there is no inventory management,” he said. “Every state should ensure this.”

Bhushan, however, has sought to assuage fears over medical oxygen shortages. He informed on Tuesday that “today’s capacity for production of oxygen is slightly more than 6,900 metric tonne. 

“If we look at the today’s morning data, 3.69 percent of total COVID-19 patients were on oxygen support, 2.17 percent were on ICU [intensive care unit] beds with oxygen, 0.36 percent [of] patients were on ventilator support with oxygen…we have a daily requirement of 2,800 metric tonne for COVID and non-COVID health use and 2,200 metric tonne for industrial use. So, we require a total of 5,000 metric tonne per day. We have a surplus of 1,900 metric tonne. There is no shortage of oxygen.” 

Bhushan added that “states should seek the Centre’s help if they face any problem. A control room needs to be established by states to monitor oxygen cylinders.”In June, the World Health Organization warned that healthcare facilities ran the risk of oxygen shortages, thereby impairing the prognosis of those infected with coronavirus experiencing respiratory distress. “Many countries are now experiencing difficulties obtaining oxygen concentrators,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the time. “Demand is currently outstripping supply.”

Ensuring the availability of medical oxygen in India – the world’s second most-affected country in terms of COVID-19 cases at the time of writing – and averting shortages is imperative. Ensuring that state governments are equipped with oxygen cylinders will be a vital step in managing the pandemic going forward. To cite the BBC News report, “it’s a lives-versus-livelihoods question that India is grappling with now.” 

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