The hunt for O2We cannot wait two months to bring the lifesaving resources by sea.
On Saturday, the Health Ministry issued a circular in the name of 10 oxygen manufacturers instructing them not to supply their product to hospitals without its recommendation. The directive to procure medical oxygen, a critical resource for treating Covid-19 patients, has received widespread condemnation for “unwanted” intervention, but officials argue that it was necessary to address a severe shortage. Oxygen should be distributed as per the number and condition of the patients in each hospital, said the ministry spokesperson, overlooking the fact that the ministry’s daily situation report has been underreporting Covid-19 patients receiving treatment at private and community-run hospitals.
In the past month and a half, hospitals have filled up fast as the country reported record single-day new infections and deaths. It is increasingly the situation even outside the Kathmandu Valley, where new hotspots have emerged in the past fortnight. As the country reels from a devastating second wave of the pandemic with at least three variants of the coronavirus in circulation, hospitals and cremation sites are already overwhelmed. Close to 90,000 people are currently isolated at home, and some people have been receiving treatment in the corridors and porches of government hospitals for lack of beds.
Given the country’s inadequate health infrastructure to deal with the surge in cases, there is a chronic shortage of hospital and human resources. People are dying for lack of treatment, but there seems to be no sign of urgency to manage the situation as the Oli administration, which lost its trust vote on Monday, continues to prioritise politics over a public health emergency, leaving the public to fend for itself. As the crisis deepens, people have turned to social media for help. Urgent appeals for beds, oxygen, plasma and medicines dominate our timelines. Doctors post medical advice should the condition of home isolated cases deteriorate, and individuals and organisations have volunteered to centralise and respond to the pleas. It’s as if there is no government while the coronavirus, like wildfire, spreads.
Amid the scramble for hospital resources and bureaucratic hassles for medical oxygen, private hospitals have now declared that they are not in a position to take more Covid-19 patients without an increased oxygen supply. The situation is so dire that doctors warn more people will succumb to the disease if critical patients are not provided oxygen support. Additionally, even if only 20 percent of the current 86,426 active cases need treatment, we are staring at a grim scenario, the symptoms of which are already starting to show as ministry officials confirm an increasing need for oxygen among active cases isolated at home.
On Monday, the ministry issued a new statement about managing medical oxygen. The Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre will oversee the distribution of oxygen hereon based on the ministry’s data, the statement reads. Reinforcement of the earlier directive aside, will the ministry's data start to reflect the actual number of hospital admissions or will it continue to underreport cases when actual figures are required to manage the situation? Every life lost to the pandemic is an immeasurable tragedy. The medical fraternity had long warned that failure to ensure oxygen supply at hospitals could exacerbate the coronavirus death rate, but government apathy has put us where we are today.
Nepal has lost every opportunity to prevent the second wave of the pandemic. As the ministry awaits the first dispatch of 2,000 oxygen cylinders and 100 ventilators, out of a total of 20,000 oxygen cylinders and 100 ventilators the government has procured from China, it must make quick decisions. Lives matter more than money. We cannot wait two months to bring the lifesaving resources using the sea route. The government should also consider the maximum production capacity of oxygen manufacturers in the country, keeping in mind the increasing demand for the gas as new cases surge in the thousands every day.
It is always good to see samaritans come together to coordinate response for SOS calls, but it is beyond their scope to tackle the worsening situation. The onus is on the government. We do not have a choice other than to act immediately to prevent any untoward situation.