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Medical oxygen shortage hits Zim

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ZIMBABWE is experiencing a shortage of medical oxygen, which is critical in saving the lives of Covid-19 patients, as the country’s death rate surges.

BRIDGET MANANAVIRE
This comes at a time the Health ministry has floated a tender, which closes on 18 January, for the supply of oxygen to public health facilities.

Deaths have risen from 369 on 31 December to 551 on 12 January while the recovery rate has fallen to 57.3% from as high as high as 95% during the first wave of the coronavirus.

Zimbabweans are now buying oxygen concentrators at a premium with a five-litre concentrator costing about US$2 000 while a 10-litre concentrator is going for around US$3 700.

Oxygen producers Unigas told The NewsHawks that there has been an upsurge in oxygen demand in the country, which “has created an artificial shortage”.

“There has been a sudden double upsurge in the demand for oxygen in the country which has created an artificial shortage and backlogs due to the current situation,” Unigas said in a response to questions by this publication.

“This has necessitated our team to work round the clock to meet the demand. We have also upscaled our production and hopefully if we don’t suffer power-cuts, we hope to continue manufacturing the product seamlessly.”

Boc Gases acting MD Lloyd Mutengwa said there is continuous communication between the producer and the ministry of Health to ensure constant supply of oxygen as per requirement.

“What we only do is to produce and we supply according to the requests. So far, we have not failed to deliver on any requests. And we have not run out. We are in discussion with the ministry of Health and always updating them on the supply,” Mutengwa said.

“There has been a slight increase in the demand, but we are still assessing the numbers, but I can say our supply have increased from about 50 tonnes per month to about 60 to 70 tonnes a month.”

Sources at one of the main Covid-19 centres, Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital run by Harare City Council, told The NewsHawks the oxygen shortage is a contributory factor to the increasing death rate as the hospitals is failing to provide oxygen support to critical patients.

“We were told that there is a shortage of oxygen and our supply is not consistent. Moreover, most of the tanks are out of oxygen and we were told that city council is failing to them refilled because the council’s accounts were garnished.

“We also have a number that have oxygen, but they are not working because the gauges are not working. People are dying because we cannot give them that support,” a source said.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) garnished the council’s bank accounts at the end of December 2020 in a bid to recover RTGS$115 million in tax arrears.  In a statement, council said the move is “adversely affecting Council’s daily operations as the City cannot honour payments to service providers including fuel and water treatment chemical suppliers”.

The chief engineer in the ministry of Health, Frank Chiku, explained to The NewsHawks what the recently floated tended was intended for.

“The tender is about us wanting to expand our oxygen supply in our hospitals. It is on infrastructure, for piped oxygen and bulk storage. It is foward thinking on our part, particularly for our district hospitals and it is not just in relation to Covid,” said Chiku.

However, he denied the shortage of medical oxygen.

“At the moment we do not have oxygen shortages, we are getting it whenever we need it. At Wilkins Hospital, the cylinders are for back-up, but we have not recieved a report to that effect right now,” Chiku added.

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