COVID: Why is India facing an oxygen shortage? | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW

The exponential surge in coronavirus infections in India in recent weeks has overwhelmed the healthcare system, seeing patients die in ambulances and parking lots outside overwhelmed hospitals and crematoriums.

It also drained the stores of medical oxygen, which is vital for those who have been infected. The severe shortage has proven to be a major challenge for hospitals in many states across the country.

Dozens of hospitals in a number of Indian cities have run out of gas, sending relatives of patients in search of oxygen cylinders, sometimes to no avail.

Twenty-four people died in a hospital overnight Sunday in the southern state of Karnataka after the hospital ran out of oxygen, press reports and sources say, although the district administration has denied that the shortages caused the deaths.

Another 12 people died in the capital, New Delhi, on Saturday after a hospital ran out of oxygen, reports said.

Several hospitals made desperate calls for oxygen on social media on Sunday evening, with deliveries arriving on time.

A children’s clinic in Delhi has sounded the alarm on Twitter about an oxygen shortage that has left between 25 and 30 newborns and children at risk.

‘There is no centralized coordination’

Oxygen therapy is crucial for severe COVID patients with hypoxemia – when oxygen levels in the blood are too low.

Experts say India is producing enough oxygen at just over 7,000 tonnes per day. Most are intended for industrial use but can be diverted for medical purposes. The Indian government has now directed most of the country’s supply of industrially produced oxygen to the health care system.

Faced with strong demand, suppliers have increased their capacity to be able to produce more than 9,000 tonnes of medical oxygen by mid-May.

However, most of the oxygen producers are based in eastern India, while the growing demand has occurred in cities in the west and north of the country.

“There is no centralized coordination of the supply and distribution of oxygen. It is completely hit and miss and the paperwork has delayed on-time deliveries,” Kumar Rahul, secretary of the department of oxygen, told DW. the health of the state of Punjab.

Vikas Bajpai of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum told DW that this is an extraordinary situation and all government agencies need to rise to the occasion. “The harsh reality is that the supply so far has not been able to meet the exponentially growing demand,” he said.

To get supplies to where they are needed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has launched “oxygen express” trains to ship gas from production units to sites that need it across the country. The Indian Air Force also transported oxygen from military bases.

Inadequate transport and storage capacity

However, the country lacks sufficient transport and storage capacities. Very low temperature liquid oxygen must be transported in cryogenic tankers to distributors, which then transform it into gas for filling the cylinders. But India lacks cryogenic tankers.

“There are only a limited number of tanks and oxygen cylinders. So the logistics of filling them up and getting them to their destination is a serious bottleneck,” said Meher Prakash of the Jawaharlal Nehru Center. for advanced scientific research.

The oxygen shortage has been a huge problem not only in cities, but also in small towns and villages where the health infrastructure is already extremely weak.

“Worryingly, there is little talk of a COVID-19 strategy that takes into account the myriad of constraints in rural India, including the availability of oxygen,” Bajpai said.

Foreign aid blocked at Delhi airport

In the past few days, emergency medical aid from foreign donors to alleviate the severe oxygen shortage has arrived in India.

The United States delivered the third of six aid shipments on Sunday, including 1,000 oxygen cylinders. The UK has donated more than 400 oxygen concentrators and France has sent eight oxygen generators, each capable of serving 250 hospital patients.

A German military plane with 120 ventilators also reached India on Saturday, and officials said plans were being made for additional flights with more supplies.

While emergency aid can save lives, it does not seem to have reached those who lack oxygen.

So far, around 20 flights have arrived with aid, but shipments have been blocked at customs for weeks, according to local media. Indian officials told DW that no domestic flights had taken off to carry the supplies to other parts of the country.

“Many states have not been informed by New Delhi of who they are and what they will receive. The powers of the state have not yet been decided,” a senior aviation official told DW. .

India’s COVID tally hits grim milestone

Amid sharp and widespread criticism of the Modi government’s handling of the health crisis, Delhi’s High Court said on Sunday it would start punishing its government officials if they failed to provide a steady supply of oxygen. .

The court warned that it would initiate contempt proceedings for non-compliance.

The number of coronavirus infections in India topped 20 million on Tuesday, becoming the second country after the United States to take this grim milestone.

India reported 357,229 new cases in the past 24 hours on Tuesday, while deaths increased by 3,449 to a toll of 222,408, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

Currently, the country has 3.45 million active cases.

Health experts say the real numbers in India could be five to 10 times higher than reported.

About Jun Quentin

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