Hospitals in satellite cities running out of oxygen cylinders

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As cases soar in Unlock 4, Covid-19 hospitals struggle to keep up with demand.

The surge in coronavirus cases in Unlock 4 and post Ganpati festivities has led to an acute of shortage of oxygen cylinders in nearly all Covid-19 hospitals in satellite cities. A number of them have not only exhausted their backup supplies but are also being forced to marginally reduce the flow of oxygen to patients to optimise use.

Some like SS Hospital and Research Centre in Bhiwandi have been driven to the point of despair. Twenty-five of the privately-run hospital’s 35 Covid-19 patients are on oxygen support. Around Thursday midnight, its director Ankit Sethia realised that its jumbo oxygen cylinder supply would last only for the next 5 hours—it needs around 25 each day—and that critical patients’ lives were on the line. A patient could need about 20-60 litres of oxygen per minute and jumbo cylinders can run out within 10-15 minutes. “Of the 13 patients in the ICU, one is a 22-year-old male with severe Covid-19 pneumonitis and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Any interruption in supply of oxygen, even for a minute, can cost him his life,” said Sethia.

Racing against time, he made desperate calls to many vendors, who didn’t have supplies. He then reached out to many hospitals in Bhiwandi but all of them said they were struggling to meet their own demands. “My 12 small backup cylinders were close to being exhausted. Till 3 am, there was no help forthcoming,” he said.

Help finally came from around 28 km away. Surana Sethia Hospital in Chembur, also a Covid-19 facility, had 15 smaller cylinders to spare. The supply was instantly dispatched and a tragedy averted.

But the Bhiwandi hospital’s relief was short-lived. By the next day, its regular oxygen tank vendor was able to provide only two jumbo cylinders of 7,000 litres each and assured Sethia that he would arrange for more by midnight. “But if he is not able to, I will again have to plead with hospitals,” said Sethia. “I have not slept in two days. We never had this problem before. State and civic authorities should address this acute shortage.”

The rising demand for oxygen cylinders has also led to an increase in their price. Hospitals want the price capped just like with Covid-19 tests

The rising demand for oxygen cylinders has also led to an increase in their price. Hospitals want the price capped just like with Covid-19 tests

Dr Amit Thadani, medical director of Niramaya Hospital in Kharghar, said his facility, too, is facing an acute shortage. The hospital needs 90 jumbo cylinders per day but is getting just 15 daily.“ I have 55 beds for Covid-19 patients and 40 patients are on oxygen support. Six of them are on the ventilator who need 20-25 litres of oxygen per minute.” Given the short supply, some patients’ oxygen flow is being lowered.

Dr Thadani said a number of doctors from Panvel and Navi Mumbai had recently requested the government’s immediate intervention, but no action has yet been taken.

An oxygen cylinder supplier, Venugopal Dodala, said vendors are just not able to keep up with the rising demand. Mumbai Metropolitan Region’s daily Covid-19 tally has shot up by 30 per cent as compared to the pre-Ganpati period. “Hospitals that earlier had 50 per cent vacant beds are now fully occupied.”

Dr Sameer Sahastrabuddhe, director of Sahastrabudhe Hospital, said with the rising demand, many vendors have also jacked up their prices four-fold. “Like the cost of Covid-19 tests, the price of oxygen cylinders should also be capped.”

Reports of similar shortage are coming from across the state. The high demand even prompted the Food and Drug Administration to issue a circular on September 7 making it mandatory for medical oxygen manufacturers to supply 80 per cent of their production for medical use and the remaining 20 per cent for industries. Maharashtra can produce 1,210 tonne of medical oxygen every day and needs around 833 tonne a day for its Covid-19 patients. Data shows that the state’s Covid-19 hospitals consumed around 1 lakh tonne of oxygen in June-August. Around 15 per cent of Covid-19 cases need oxygen support.



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