Kenyans suffer as hospitals face acute oxygen shortage

Rising COVID-19 cases cause shortage in East African country

Andrew Wasike   | 19.04.2021
Kenyans suffer as hospitals face acute oxygen shortage


With many coronavirus patients facing oxygen needs, hospitals in Kenya are facing an acute shortage of life-saving medical oxygen, putting the lives of many patients at risk.

David Kimanzi, 33, from Limuru suffered a lung infection late last year, putting him on oxygen therapy prescribed for respiratory tract infections.

“We used to refill the oxygen at around 2,000 Kenyan shillings ($20). Now the price has soared, and the demand is high due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now a refill costs us two or three times the amount because there’s a shortage,” he told Anadolu Agency on Monday.

“For us, there’s no choice. We’re gasping for air and we need it to survive.”

Kimanzi is among many others who have taken to social media and media outlets to lament an acute shortage of oxygen.

Brilliant Wangui, 25, was put on oxygen after a cesarean section went wrong.

“The price of oxygen cylinders has gone up. My mother has a huge debt because I need oxygen and she tries her best to get it for me. The bills just keep on piling up,” she told Anadolu Agency.

Hospitals such as the Kenyatta National Hospital have recently stopped surgeries over the shortage of oxygen. “Only emergencies to be operated upon due to acute shortage of oxygen because of rising numbers of COVID-19 patients,” according to a memo issued by the director of surgical services to all departments on April 6.

Growing demand

The COVID-19 pandemic has further worsened the situation in East African, a country with reserves of the Health Ministry near exhausted and demand for oxygen cylinders growing.

Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe had told a press briefing last month: “We have about 20,000 oxygen cylinders that are out there in people’s homes, hospitals, and other institutions. These cylinders are required back in the industry immediately. We are appealing to all those holding oxygen cylinders to immediately return them so that companies can supply oxygen to our hospitals.”

According to Kagwe, a cylinder of oxygen costs 40,000 Kenya shillings ($400). After the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenya’s oxygen needs have doubled, he added.

“Last year the total production and requirement for the industry were about 410 tons, which went up to 560 tons around January 2021. Our demand has gone up to 880 tons now, while the industry is already over-stretched,” he added.

According to a Health Ministry statement on Monday, “a total of 1,651 patients are currently admitted in various health facilities countrywide, while 6,161 patients are on home-based isolation care. Over 250 patients are in ICUs, with 57 of them on ventilatory support, 150 on supplemental oxygen, and 43 under observation."

The country has so far recorded 152,000 COVID-19 cases, with 2,481 deaths and 102,000 recoveries.

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