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Western counties grappling with oxygen, Covid kits shortage


Governor Dr Wilber Ottichilo commissions an oxygen plant at Vihiga County Referral Hospital. May 20, 2021. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Counties in Western region continue to grapple with the scarcity of oxygen in public hospitals and shortage of testing kits as Covid-19 cases continue to rise.

Vihiga county has been struggling to fix a power hitch that stalled operations of an oxygen plant at Mbale Referral Hospital about two weeks ago. On the other hand, Kakamega county has run out of Covid-19 testing kits.

Governor Wilbur Ottichilo’s administration procured an oxygen plant with a capacity to generate 300 litres of oxygen per minute but the project ran into headwinds following power supply challenges.

Vihiga continues to refer patients in need of oxygen to Kakamega County General Hospital (KCGH) which has been grappling with oxygen supply challenges due to a high number of patients.

So far, Vihiga County has procured a bigger transformer, according to  Director of Communication Victor Wetende.

Mr Wetende told The Standard that the oxygen plant was still intact and “with the new high voltage power transformer, production of oxygen to support patients will be resumed by early August.”

In April, Kenya Power issued the county government a Sh5.1 million quotation to facilitate upgrading power supply to the five-bed ICU that cost Sh27 million to put up at the county referral facility.

By Wednesday, Vihiga County Referral Hospital had four patients on oxygen support.

The county’s acting Health Executive Inonda Mwanje said they had procured enough oxygen to meet the daily demand.

“We don’t have a deficiency in oxygen even though we have active patients on the oxygen support machine,” said Prof Mwanje.

Vihiga county has so far vaccinated 12,725 residents against Covid-19 with the first dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine, of which 7,934 have received their second dose. The county has recorded 25 Covid-19 cases.

And Kakamega Health Executive Collins Matemba confirmed that Covid-19 testing kits were depleted earlier this month, a situation that has derailed service delivery.

“The crucial equipment that was over by July 3, this year, has affected the testing of coronavirus samples in our laboratories and we have to rely on an alternative way of conducting testing,” he said.

According to Matemba, Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR) are being done from Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) in Kisumu and Busia.

“The national government only supplied us with sample collection kits for PCR through Kemri,” he said.

He said the county government has formally written to the Ministry of Health to speed up the delivery process of testing kits.

Matemba indicated that the county has been able to procure adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) at a cost of Sh25 million and distributed them to hospitals across the county.

He confirmed that the new Sh100 million oxygen plant imported from France by the county government was still stuck at the port of Mombasa over Sh8 million tax imposed by KRA.

The plant has a capacity to generate at least 1000 litres of oxygen per minute and was meant to address the shortage of oxygen in Kakamega and neighbouring counties.

Kakamega has recorded 71 Covid-19 cases as of July, 13 deaths, 124 admissions and 74 people on home-based isolation and care.

The county recorded at least 358 Covid-19 cases between May and July.  Matemba said 45 people died from Covid-19 within the same period.

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