Amid second wave, oxygen alarm bells ring in Karnataka

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With a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in the State, the demand for medical oxygen has in the last few days shot up three-fold than the usual 200 metric tonnes required per day. Most hospitals, especially medium and smaller hospitals, said they are running out of stocks.

The situation took a turn for the worse since Friday with some smaller hospitals asking families to shift patients admitted in their hospitals to other facilities as they would touch the zero mark anytime.

In a fervent video appeal, Vijay Raghav Reddy, owner of Swastik Hospital in Bommasandra in Bengaluru, pleaded with the Government to supply additional medical oxygen to his hospital failing which many of his patients may die.

“We need 36 jumbo cylinders for our nine patients and we will run out of oxygen anytime. Last time we handled more than 40 COVID patients at a time but never faced oxygen deficiency. This year, suppliers say they do not have any oxygen and we cannot retain patients here without more supply,” he said, adding he was arranging to shift them to other facilities.

PHANA’s letter

On Saturday, the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association (PHANA) also wrote to the government seeking intervention as the liquid medical oxygen suppliers have stopped supply to hospitals.

“Private hospitals across Karnataka and in particular Bengaluru are facing an acute shortage of medical grade oxygen. The suppliers have either stopped supply or are not responding to deliver the required stocks,” said Prasanna H M, PHANA president, in the letter. He said there could be a “major medical disaster” if the situation continues.

Dr Prasanna, who met Jawaid Akhtar, Additional Chief Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, said the latter assured that the situation would be resolved in consultation with the Industries and Commerce Department.

R Ravindra, Managing Director of Suguna Hospital and former president, said, “We were using a maximum of three mini bulk cylinders of liquid oxygen till a few days ago. This has gone up to 12 now. Yesterday we required ten such cylinders.” Syed Tousif Masood, who coordinates the oxygen helpline at Mercy Mission, a NGO, said he has been finding it difficult to arrange for oxygen to needy patients who have been calling the helpline.

‘Panic unnecessary’

However, sources in Karnataka State Drugs Control Department told The Hindu that shortage is not as severe as it is made out to be. “Panic is unnecessary. Karnataka’s manufacturing capacity is 812 metric tonnes per day. Till April 14, the total usage in Karnataka was 197 metric tonnes per day. During the first outbreak, the maximum consumption per day had not crossed 600 metric tonnes per day,” an official said.

BBMP Chief Commissioner Gaurav Gupta said the consumption has increased with a steep rise in cases. “Although the State’s manufacturing capacity is high, the supply line is irrespective of State boundaries. While some districts in Karnataka get supply from Maharashtra some districts there and in other neighbouring States get supply from Karnataka,” said Mr Gupta who previously monitored the oxygen supply chain in the State.

“We had curtailed industrial consumption last year to make more oxygen available for medical purposes. A similar solution may be worked out this time too by the Additional Chief Secretary (Health and Family Welfare),” he added.

‘Every hospital patient needs oxygen support’

The State’s consumption of medical oxygen had increased from 120 metric tonnes per day on an average during the pre-COVID-19 period to nearly 420 metric tonnes per day till August last year. Subsequently, it shot up to 600 metric tonnes per day for a brief period.

Doctors handling critical COVID-19 patients then had said the consumption per patient per day had increased from six litres in the pre-COVID-19 days to nearly 30 litres during the outbreak. Now every patient who is admitted is requiring oxygen as only those whose saturation is dipping are being admitted, doctors said.

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