Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe now says the country is facing an oxygen crisis in hospitals due to lack of oxygen gas cylinders amid the rising number of Covid-19 infections and fatalities in the current third wave of the pandemic.
In a press briefing on Monday, the CS said there is a serious shortage of the cylinders in the market even as he pointed out the high cost of acquiring new cylinders. He said it is illegal to hold the gas cylinders while the Ministry is appealing for them under the Public Health Act.
“We are appealing to anyone who is holding oxygen gas cylinders to immediately return them so that companies can use them to supply oxygen to hospitals. These cylinders are expensive and international market is currently squeezed. Supply is a problem. Each cylinder costs about Sh40,000. To replace them would require a lot of money. It is an offence to keep the cylinders when we have asked for them under the Public Health Act,” said the CS.
CS Kagwe pointed out the current high demand for oxygen in hospitals even as he highlighted the country’s poor infrastructure to manufacture oxygen. He said the country has about 70 oxygen plants most of which have broken down over time and require urgent repair.
“We have around 70 oxygen plants in Kenya. Most of these plants are in disrepair and we need to get them working very urgently. We are going to standardise the kind of oxygen plants that we have in the country because as we speak we can’t get spare parts for some of the plants that were build years essentially because they came from sources that are suspect. For example the oxygen plant at Kenyatta National Hospital was supplied by the then Slovakian Republic. The country itself does not exist, so how can they even begin repairing that plant,” said Kagwe.
He added: “Last year the total production and requirement for the industry was about 410 tonnes. Around January, this quickly went up to about 560 tonnes. We are now heading to a demand of 880 tonnes which is double what we started with. The situation at the moment is such that the industry is completely stretched and if we go any further than that, some immediate steps will have to be taken.”
The Health CS further urged both county and national government hospitals to fast track the setting up of oxygen piping infrastructure in the wards to avoid situations where a single oxygen gas cylinder is used to take care of one patient at a time.
“We need to increase the infrastructure for piping in hospitals. What is now happening is that individual cylinders are being used per patient such that we have a cylinder lying next to a patient. This is inefficient and dangerous. It is inefficient because one cylinder can be used by quite a number of people if the oxygen has been piped to the bed sides.
“So we are asking both county and national government facilities to fastrack the piping of oxygen. And then course these are pressurised cylinders and so anything can happen when we have something like that placed next to a patient,” he said.
He said the Ministry Health is in talks with the National Treasury to have some taxes exempted for the supply of oxygen gas cylinders.
“We are working with the National Treasury at this moment because of the emergency nature of requirement of oxygen to see whether we can increase the supply of oxygen cylinders via reduction of some taxes. We are also going to work with the Pharmacy & Poisons Board to fast track certification of gas suppliers keeping in mind the quality,” said Kagwe.