Nigeria

Covid-19: Hope as UN agencies collaborate to tackle India’s oxygen crisis

Since the end of 2019 when Covid-19 pandemic broke out in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China, the world has yet to recover from it. Critical sectors across the world gasped for breath and several countries imposed lockdowns to curtail the spread. Deaths and recoveries were recorded across continents. Families mourned their loved ones and   health workers recorded casualties. But gradually relief came. But at a time the world was about to heave a sigh of relief when the first wave succumbed to drastic medical actions including hand-washing, social distancing, use of facemask, and hand sanitiser, the second wave sneaked in. Anxiety resurfaced based on first wave experiences in many countries.

Hope appeared to have come when scientists worked tirelessly to develop vaccines to fight the pandemic. By December 2020, some pharmaceutical companies got approval for their COVID-19 vaccines by the health authorities. On December 11, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. On December 18, 2020, the FDA also allowed an emergency use of the Moderna vaccine. In mid-February, the World Health Organisation approved use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to tackle the virus. Also, the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved.

But apprehension emerged in South Asia when the pandemic worsened in India during the second wave in April. Citizens have been in and out of hospitals with deaths sadly increasingly.  The health facilities have been overwhelmed and fears are mounting with the oxygen crisis added to the mix.

According to the CNBC, the resurgence overwhelmed hospitals struggling with bed shortages as well as a limited supply of oxygen and medicines to treat patients.

It reported that the international community promised to send medical aid in the form of oxygen cylinders, concentrators and other medical supplies. The news outlets noted that some of the aid shipments had started arriving in India. Getting oxygen for the patients has become a tough task. In the past week, doctors have come on social media platforms to request an immediate supply of oxygen as the available oxygen for some patients could only last them for two hours with no hope of getting a refill before the estimated time.

Quoting the chairman and managing director of Max Healthcare, with hospitals in Delhi, Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttarakhand, Abhay Soi, he stated that the situation had not eased because the number of cases moved up based on the severity.

According to Worldometer, as of Friday, there are 21,580,831 total cases, 95,546 new cases and 234,705 deaths. Some countries are also still recording fresh cases of the deadly virus. Some of them are Russia, Germany, Poland, Croatia, Nepal, Slovakia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Austria and the United Arab Emirates.

Online reports quoted the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Indian government as saying, “a third wave is inevitable given the higher levels of circulating the virus.”

A video by the British Broadcasting Corporation showed one of the doctors calling for help on Twitter. The doctor, Gautam Singh, who heads the Shri Ram Singh hospital and Heart Institute in Delhi, a 100-bed hospital with a COVID facility said, “We have lack of oxygen, we do not have enough oxygen to sustain our patients for the next two hours. We have been trying since 4:30am. Our vehicles have gone to some locations, we are not getting oxygen anywhere.

“We have young patients who will die in a matter of two hours. I request you, please send oxygen to us, we need oxygen for our patients. They need oxygen, please send oxygen to them.”

The Deputy Asia Editor of The Independent, Rituparna Chatterjee on her Twitter handle said, “Hospitals have put the onus of arranging oxygen on patients. Critical patients are on 24hour 02 (oxygen) support. A 40-50 litre cylinder will last the night, but refill is a nightmare.

“Plants generally do not refill individual cylinders, they do for hospitals and hospitals will not take your private cylinder, if they do there is a chance of them misplacing it.”

The situation has led to the profiteering of black marketers who increase prices, insist on buying a new cylinder instead of refilling as well as the sale of “fake oxygen.”

Vice News reported that a woman in a desperate bid to buy an oxygen cylinder for a relative who was denied hospital bed was sold a fire extinguisher instead of an oxygen cylinder for $135.

Chatterjee also said, “Black marketers insist you buy cylinders instead of refill. Which means if a patient is on oxygen, every day, you are being pressured to buy a new cylinder instead of refilling.”

Social Media, especially Twitter has now become a mini-online hospital where relatives of patients with Covd-19 come to solicit oxygen, drugs and hospital bed.

The government has said that oxygen was available having got donations from the UK and Germany, adding that the country was still producing oxygen.

The court has directed the government to decide a formula that will aid the seamless supply of oxygen to the states.

The court said the formula for allocation and distribution of oxygen among states should be based, among other things, on an “oxygen audit”, that is, to determine the actual need of oxygen in a state.

However, hope has seemingly appeared on the horizon with the collaborative efforts of the United Nations agencies to tackle the oxygen crisis in the South Asian country.

The Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, Stephane Dujarric, pledged continued support of the local and national authorities in India.

He said that the United Nations International Children Education Fund, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Population Fund, had delivered oxygen concentrators, medical masks and face shields.

Dujarric said, “The UN has delivered nearly 10,000 oxygen concentrators and about 10 million medical masks to India to support national and local governments to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. The UN team has also purchased ventilators and oxygen-generating plants. UNICEF is also providing cold chain equipment for COVID-19 vaccines.”

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