COVID-19 induced oxygen crisis: India out of breath


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A Sydney-based friend rang yesterday, very concerned. Almost in distress.

“A family member is in hospital in India – can you help source some oxygen?”

A COVID patient in New Delhi’s elite Apollo Hospital, his family was struggling to admit him into the ICU.

“Do you know anyone who knows anyone who can help us source a ventilator at least?” the friend asked, as we began scrolling through the mental black book for an Apollo contact.

How desperate that the message had gone out to worldwide contacts of the family to come to the aid of a patient in need.

It put in perspective the news headline we had read just hours before: about oxygen reserves drying up.

Perhaps Bloomberg said it best – How a Covid Spike Is Sucking the Oxygen Out of India.

Meanwhile, as our Twitter and WhatsApp feeds began to show similar requests for help with oxygen cylinders, news came in that one of our own immediate family members in Gurgaon had tested positive, while the rest of the family waited for their test results.

india's oxygen crisis reflects on social media
India’s oxygen crisis has users requesting resources on social media. Source: u/dr137 on Reddit

A quick check with a close friend in Bangalore, a COVID patient on her 8th day. “How are you feeling,” we ask.

“SpO2 levels are still low,” she responds.

We take refuge with Google to figure out what SpO2 means.

Ok, it’s a measure of oxygen saturation. Most Indians are now well versed with medical terminology of the sort we have never heard: it’s become common parlance.

They also know that the eighth day is crucial –  called ‘checkpoint day’, it can indicate if the road to recovery will be smooth.

Oxygen tank explosion in Nashik

As a photo pops up on our feed showing an Indian man on the road running with an oxygen cylinder weighing him down, we hear that a truck carrying an oxygen cylinder in Nashik has exploded, killing at least 24 people.

Nashik oxygen tank explodes leak: India's oxygen crisis
At least 22 COVID patients died due to the oxygen leak. Source: @ians_india/Twitter

The tragedy occurred at the Dr Zakir Hussain Hospital run by the BJP-controlled Nashik Municipal Corporation (NMC), which is among the biggest civic bodies, and in one of the worst Covid-19 hotspots in the state.

“It’s a very serious incident… coming due to a drop in pressure of the oxygen being administered to the patients,” Health Minister Rajesh Tope said.

NMC Municipal Commissioner Kailash Jadhav ordered a probe into the incident and assured action against all found guilty of lapses.

He said that due to the leak, oxygen supply was stopped for about 30 minutes, which culminated in the disaster that claimed 24 COVID patients.

The Nashik incident has become the worst Covid-related tragedy in the past 13 months of the pandemic, days after a mega-fire killed 11 people at a Mumbai hospital on March 26.

India plans to import oxygen

India will be importing oxygen generation plants and containers from Germany to address the oxygen crisis faced by the country in the middle of the raging second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Government sources said that 23 mobile oxygen generation plants are being airlifted from Germany.

An official source said that the problem India is facing in importing oxygen is due to transportation, due to an acute shortage of containers to carry the life-saving gas.

With the second wave of Covid-19 hitting India hard, the Centre has roped in the Indian Air Force to airlift oxygen cylinders, regulators, and essential medicines as the National Capital Region (NCR) faces a shortage of oxygen cylinders and medicines.

Additionally, the IAF has started airlifting personnel, doctors and nursing staff to help the government battle the pandemic.

Pronal breathing to increase oxygen supply

By now, we’ve all seen that WhatsApp forward – of how to lie on your stomach to increase oxygen intake, neatly demonstrated with an oximeter.

(An oximeter is a common machine found in Indian households today – like the thermometer used to be when we were growing up. In case you don’t know, it’s a device that clips on to your finger and measures your blood oxygen levels.).

“The prone method isn’t a hack, it’s a tried and tested and scientifically proven method to improve oxygen supply,” Dr Rajesh Pande, the Senior Director of BLKC Center for Critical Care in Delhi, told News18. “This is quite scientific, and doctors have been following it for more than 10 years,” he stated.

With IANS reports

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