KNH suspends planned surgeries due acute shortage of medical oxygen
The country’s largest referral facility, Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) has been forced to scale down on surgeries due to an acute shortage of oxygen in the country.
At KNH, the demand for oxygen has equally doubled to 8,000 litres of bulk oxygen.
The country’s sluggish investment into production and delivery of oxygen could be blamed for the shortage of oxygen in the country that has critically hampered the handling of COVID-19 cases, at a time more severe disease is being reported.
A critically ill COVID-19 patient may require up to four cylinders of 8,500 litres a night, becoming an expensive disease to manage; of lives threatened by the uncertain supply of the crucial gas.
Recently Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe declared an oxygen crisis in a country whose oxygen demand has doubled in a few months to hit 880 tonnes in the month of March. At the time, Kagwe blamed hoarding of oxygen cylinders by private Kenyans, hospitals and other facilities.
But it may not hit home until one understands how important Oxygen is, a gas that is ordinarily naturally occurring.
For patients that can still breathe on their own, oxygen supplementation of different levels can be sufficient therapy to keep their blood oxygenated as they buy time for the body to fight the virus. But for critically ill patients, they would require to be put on a ventilator.
As of Wednesday, April 7, the country had 236 patients in ICU facilities, 53 of them on ventilators. Another 253 patients are receiving oxygen supplementation at different wards.
At the RFH healthcare facility, which we visisted, 12 patients were in ICU and HDU while a dozen more were on supplemental oxygen, making it necessary to have piped oxygen where different patients can share the supply.
“On a good day you can get oxygen for about Ksh.3,000, on a bad day it’s about Ksh.5,000. So with a patient using three or four, that bill is almost Ksh.20,000,” explains Dr. Victor Ng’ani, Group Medical Director, RFH Healthcare.
The facility has now had to on a daily basis procure oxygen for a constant flow. Such is the story for many public and private health facilities.
For a country that has 73 oxygen plants at national and county facilities, the announcement by Devki Group to donate oxygen to all health facilities has attracted many customers.
At the Devki oxygen gas plant in Ruiru, level of activity has gone up since the last week of March, as staff and machines continue to tap air from the atmosphere, compress it, cool it, purify it before methodically filling it into waiting gas cylinders of various hospitals.
Health facilities have to follow the usual procurement process and start by applying for donations from Devki. From the records, several hospitals have been making orders on a daily basis including Kenyatta University Teaching, Research and Referral Hospital, Karen Hospital, and Muranga Level V Hospital.
When we visited the plant, vehicles from Muranga, Kitui and Nyeri were on the cue for the daily dose of the cylinders of life.
“I don’t think it should cost more than Ksh.100 million to Ksh.200 million to put up a nice oxygen plant for a level 5 hospital,” says Narendra Raval Chairman, Devki.
Others, however, estimate it could cost as low as 14 million shillings for an oxygen plant sufficient for moderate size hospital.
At the Kisii Referral Hospital, the demand for oxygen has shot up. Ordinarily, the oxygen plant there serves up to five counties. They have now had to only release the excess supply they produce. Electricity supply has been inconsistent and often times hampers production.
For now over 400 patients are depending on the precious cylinders, to live another day to fight the virus.