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How shortage of cylinders worsened oxygen crisis

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By Elizabeth Kamurungi

At the peak of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the country was hit by an oxygen crisis that worsened management of the disease in the country.

President Museveni would later inform the nation that one of the drivers of the crisis was scarcity of refillable oxygen cylinders.

“The current oxygen challenge we are facing is the availability of empty cylinders for distribution. Of course if cases keep expanding, it can also outstrip our production capacity,” he said on June 18 when he announced a 42-day lockdown.

Patients of severe diseases are victims of breathing difficulties and suffer low levels of oxygen, requiring oxygen therapy to survive.  But with many health facilities lacking oxygen plants, patients would rely on refillable cylinders.

Some caretakers resorted to buying cylinders and administering oxygen at home. But as the number of severe and critical requiring oxygen increased, it became difficult to secure one.

There have been a number of accounts in the media of those who succumbed, waiting to be connected to a source of oxygen.

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Daily Monitor has learnt that the country now faces a shortfall of 11,600 oxygen cylinders.

Figures from the Ministry of Health show that prior to the pandemic, there were only 1,700 cylinders for use in public hospitals but this has increased since, especially through donations.

“The country’s demand for all levels from national, regional referral and general hospitals, health centre IVs and health centre IIIs is 24,000 cylinders,” Mr George Otim, the commissioner health infrastructure at the ministry, said.

With no local manufactures for the containers of the lifesaving gas currently, importation is the only option. A source at Uganda Oxygen Plant said all cylinders are imported. The main raw material used in making cylinders is Aluminium.

Mr Museveni, a strong advocate of the manufacturing sector, has made no mention of any ventures to manufacture cylinders.

Experts have advised the powers that be to prepare for a possible third wave since only five per cent of the target 21.9 million people is vaccinated.

Hospitals with no plants rely solely on cylinders while those with plants need the cylinders for emergencies

In her July 1 update, the Health minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, said her docket aimed to “secure more cylinders to quickly bridge the gap”.

Mr Otim said procurement of oxygen cylinders is ongoing with over 10,700 cylinders in the pipeline.

The ministry is also focusing on establishing more oxygen plants to avoid a repeat of the previous crisis.

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