Kenyan hospitals are running out of medical oxygen used to treat critical coronavirus patients, Kenya’s Daily Nation reported on Wednesday.
The Emergency Medicine Kenya Foundation recently conducted a survey of emergency care centers across Kenya revealing that “over 30 percent of the facilities do not have a regular supply of oxygen.” According to the report, “close to 90 percent of those [facilities] with oxygen do not have piped oxygen in the emergency department and deliver oxygen directly from the tanks to the patient.”
Very few hospitals carry “liquid oxygen which is stored in tanks, converted to gas, and piped directly to bedsides,” the Daily Nation noted. The majority of Kenyan hospitals, especially in counties outside the capital, Nairobi, “lack the infrastructure necessary for this process.” As a result, most hospitals in Kenya “rely on oxygen cylinders, which in turn makes oxygen five times more expensive by volume,” according to a recent investigation by Kenya’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Liquid oxygen is preferred by most health facilities because it is more economical. Denser than gas oxygen, it can be transported in bulk quantities. At 99 percent pure oxygen, liquid oxygen is purer than that packaged in cylinders, which “averages 93 percent pure oxygen,” according to the report.
Dr. Majid Twahir, the Chief of Staff at Nairobi’s Aga Khan University Hospital, told the Daily Nation that patients who require oxygen typically “start at one to two liters per minute, which implies 60 to 120 liters per hour. If the patient is on oxygen the whole day, this will amount to 1,440 to 2,880 liters per day.”
He says that for coronavirus patients requiring oxygen, “we initially use between four to eight liters per minute of oxygen. On occasion, to try and delay the use of a ventilator, we use a high flow cannula set to deliver more oxygen. This consumes 50 to 60 liters of oxygen per minute.”
In response to the oxygen shortage, Kenya’s Health Ministry recently announced that it will redirect “about Sh1.2 billion [$11.07 million] allocated for the renovation of [coronavirus] isolation centers to the purchase of piped oxygen.” The ministry will distribute the oxygen to “ten high-risk counties,” according to the report.
Kenya confirmed its first case of the Chinese coronavirus in March. At press time on Thursday, Kenya officially reported 36,576 cases and 642 deaths from the virus. Health experts believe the true numbers to be much higher, citing the Kenyan government’s lack of sufficient testing and transparency.