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Imminent Crisis: No Oxygen in Future Even for a Sigh of Relief

As the third wave of the Covid-19 piles up at an unprecedented rate – industry representatives moot strategies to cope with looming medical oxygen crisis.

With the third wave of Covid-19 scoring cases higher than its previous two waves, the hospitals are running short of medical equipment more than before. More than 5,000 new Covid-19 patients were diagnosed within the last two weeks of March, and medical oxygen supplies have started to lag behind demand. Although the problem is just starting to surface, it is certain to assume alarming proportions soon if the people continue to contract the virus flouting the 6-feet distance rule.

Oxygen has mainly three sectors in which the application of this product is going on. The first and most important is healthcare, all hospitals are involved in this respect. The second biggest sector concerned with oxygen is the ship-breaking industry, which has a potential usage for oxygen. The total initial cost for setting up a unit with an oxygen manufacturing capacity of 2,160,000 m3 (cubic meter) gaseous oxygen per year is estimated at about PKR 100 million.

There were around 4,652 COVID-19 patients on high and low oxygen throughout the country as well as on ventilators on Friday, National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) data said and health officials claimed that patients requiring oxygen were on the rise due to the rise in the COVID-19 positivity rate and hospitalization of patients in the country.

“Hundred percent of oxygen produced by us at the Pakistan Oxygen Limited is being supplied to the healthcare facilities due to multifold increase in its demand after a surge in COVID-19 cases”, said an official of the Pakistan Oxygen Limited, an oxygen-producing company. “If cases continue to rise, hospitals may face a shortage of oxygen as we are producing at our maximum capacity”.

There are many units in the business of industrial and medical oxygen manufacturing but still, they are not successful in catering to the demand. Oxygen producers are warning Pakistan may also face a shortage of oxygen gas for the treatment of respiratory insufficiencies like India during the third wave of COVID-19 if the life-saving gas continues to be supplied for the industrial sector, adding that the bulk of the oxygen being produced in the country was being supplied for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

“As compared to the first and second wave, COVID-19 pneumonia cases are very high this time and this number is constantly rising,” says Dr. Shahzad Ali Khan, Dean of Health Services Academy. “Most of the hospitalized patients require oxygen as the life-saving gas is the most important intervention in saving COVID-19 patients at the health facilities. NCOC has already warned that 90 percent of our beds of oxygen facility are already filled”.

Dr. Khan maintains that if the number of patients requiring oxygen rises due to an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients in southern parts of the country, especially Karachi and Hyderabad, it could put an extra burden on the oxygen-producing capacity of the companies. He urges people to take precautionary measures to avoid situations like India.

A Pakistan Oxygen Limited official states that the oxygen production previously used for both medical assistance for respiratory problems as well as other manufacturing industries is now being solely supplied to the hospitals. He said there were five oxygen producers in Pakistan, who were supplying oxygen to the health facilities and to the industrial sector but added that the entire production of their company was being supplied to health facilities in the country.

“In the past, we used to have even one month’s stock, but at the moment, we are supplying all the production to the health facilities on a daily basis. The industrial sector is still being supplied oxygen at the moment and if demands increase, authorities would have to cut the oxygen supply to the industrial sector or we may face a situation like India also,” the POL official added.

“In this third wave, we are under stress but the situation is not like India. If all our plants work at maximum capacity and we divert the gas from the industrial sector to the health sector, we can meet the domestic requirement of the health sector,” said Muneeb Khan Babar, representative of an oxygen producer Multan Chemicals Limited. He however adds that oxygen producers will need an uninterrupted supply of electricity to meet the surging demand.

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