Nepal: Oxygen shortage hit 22 districts amid COVID-19 surge
By Binod Prasad Adhikari
Kathmandu [Nepal], May 1 (ANI): With the sudden spike in COVID-19 cases in Nepal, the Ministry of Health and Population has issued a notice stating that it now has become "next to impossible" for hospitals to provide beds for treatment in 22 hardest-hit districts of the country.
In the notice, the Ministry on Friday stated that the health infrastructure of the country is unlikely to sustain the fight and instead has urged people to be sensitive towards the pandemic.
"At this time of health emergency, we would like to urge one and all to abide by public health protocol such as wearing face masks, maintaining physical distance, avoiding crowds and washing hands with soap and water frequently," Dr Sameer Kumar Adhikari, assistant spokesperson for the ministry said in the notice.
The ministry also appealed to people to stop all forms of travel, domestic tourism, roaming around in public places, and avoid any program that could lead to a crowd. Nepal till Saturday morning has recorded 328,893 COVID-19 cases and 3,298 deaths, The Himalayan Time reported.
Rush to Kathmandu to refill oxygen cylinders
Surendra Subedi waited for about an hour to get his two small medical oxygen gas cylinders get refilled inside a local facility in Balaju Industrial Area.
"I have come here for oxygen cylinder but I also have a patient with me in my ambulance," Subedi, an ambulance driver who made his way all the way to capital travelling a distance of 300 kilometers told ANI.
"At normal times, I use to stock up to two gas cylinders but now I have to increase it up to five. A big size (medical oxygen) cylinder do not fit in my vehicle (ambulance) that is why I stock up small ones and refill them when I come to Kathmandu as it is not available in Butwaland," Subedi added.
In the last couple of weeks, Subedi has ferried over dozens of COVID-19 infected patients to Kathmandu for treatment in an ambulance operated by local club of Rupandehi District.
Oxygen factories struggle to meet demand
Shambhu Bhandari, manager of a local Shankar Oxygen Gas company, has been having hard time in attending and answering calls these days. He has been receiving dozens of calls -- some are from hospitals and some from individuals inquiring if they can get their oxygen gas cylinders refilled any time soon.
"Amid the pandemic, demand has increased by two-three folds due to COVID-19. In order to meet the demand, we are running our production round clock and sending it to market and we are also going to operationalise our another plant so that demands can be met," Bhandari told ANI.
Demands for life savior medical oxygen has increased in recent weeks in Nepali capital Kathmandu as the number of COVID-19 cases continued to soar. The national capital alone has been recording the highest number of confirmed cases on a daily basis which has thrown the already rugged medical situation of the country out of gear.
The government now has requested factories not to send medical oxygen gas cylinders outside Kathmandu Valley as demands are expected to surge in the coming days.
Oxygen manufactures since last week has already cut off their supplies to industries in wake of rising demand for life-saving gas as demands from hospitals also has increased in the same time.
Oxygen Industries Association which represents 8 oxygen manufacturers in Kathmandu Valley has capped their maximum capacity of oxygen production at 8,000 cylinders per day. Shankar Oxygen Gas also has the capacity to produce about 1,500 cylinders of medical oxygen gas in a day.
"We do not have any problem in production capacity but the problem at this hour of crisis is a limited number of cylinders. People are hoarding gas cylinders in their home, the same condition goes with hospitals. This has decreased the number of cylinders under our control," Shambhu Bhandari said.
Meanwhile, the government has also decided to grant tax exemptions including customs duty, value-added tax, and excise duty on imports of oxygen cylinders, asking the manufacturers to import over 20,000 cylinders.
The manufacturers said that even with existing cylinders, more oxygen supply to the hospitals could be managed provided the hospitals return the cylinders in a timely manner once they are empty.
"We try to give oxygen gas cylinders to those who need it for immediate use. For those who have stored it in-house, we appeal them not to do so. I would like to assure them that there is no such need, it would be available whenever they need. We are in capital and oxygen production and supply service is available round the clock," Bhandari pledged. (ANI)