Patients gasping for air as shortage of medical oxygen bites

An oxygen cylinder. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Some hospitals in Nakuru County are not admitting Covid-19 patients due to shortage of medical oxygen.

The Nakuru Nursing Home, for instance, stopped admitting Covid patients from Wednesday until supply of the commodity is guaranteed. About four cylinders of 60 litres each are consumed at the hospital every day.

“We have borrowed oxygen from all hospitals in Nakuru, until we cannot get any more,” says proprietor Miriam Maina. “The situation is dire. The current supply is enough for those in admission,” she said in reference to the current 10 admissions, six in the ICU and four in the isolation unit.

The nursing home, a private facility, was depending on a private company but its plant broke down cutting supply. Maina says it now depends on another company in Nairobi but high demand across the country disrupts steady supply of medical oxygen.

Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital, with four ICU beds and 28 in the isolation unit, is also experiencing acute shortage of oxygen from its suppliers in Eldoret. “We are receiving eight cylinders, yet we require 30, for smooth operation,” said an insider who requested anonymity.

The hospital has been forced to scale down operations as the oxygen supplied is also distributed to Bondeni and Langalanga hospitals, currently treating Covid-19 patients.

Cesarean Section (CS) at Margaret Kenyatta Mother-Baby Wing was recently stopped following the shortage.

"Delivering through CS has been moved to the general theatre where oxygen is supplied to preterm babies,” said the source.

The Nakuru County situation report dated August 8 notes that the county had 108 admissions, with 101 on supplemental oxygen and seven in ICU.

Deputy Governor Erick Korir said the ongoing construction of a 2,000 litres oxygen plant at the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital “will provide oxygen to other facilities in Nakuru and other neighbouring counties.”

At least 1,929 patients were admitted in hospitals across the country, according to August 12 data by the Ministry of Health which noted that 138 are in the ICU, 63 are on ventilator support and 67 on supplemental oxygen.

Kenya Medical Association President Were Onyino said the increase in Covid cases is putting pressure on already constrained resources including “the severe shortage of ICU beds, medical oxygen, PPEs and medical personnel.”

“Healthcare workers should adapt the use of technology like telemedicine and reduce elective surgeries and procedures, if need be, to avert infections,” says Dr Onyino.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), Secretary-General Davji Atellah asked counties to revamp ICU beds and operationalise isolation centres which were closed prematurely, following low caseload.

“President Uhuru Kenyatta directed all counties to have at least 300 isolation beds, but we are not having them operationalised, even with an increase in cases. It is unfortunate that people are ailing at homes, where they cannot get quality healthcare,” said Dr Atelllah.

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