Chandigarh: Amid a surge in Covid cases and the fatality rate in Punjab over the last three weeks, the Amarinder Singh government has sought assistance from neighbouring states and local manufacturers as it struggles to plug the supply of liquid oxygen across hospitals.
The government has written to Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, seeking supply of liquid oxygen amid fears of shortage by the end of September. It has also asked key oxygen manufacturers in the state to prioritise supply to hospitals.
The move has come as the state is trying to tackle a steep demand in oxygen supply, crucial for severe Covid patients, amid a worsening public health situation.
In August, 504 patients in the state needed oxygen support, and 233 required ventilator support. This was a multifold rise from the respective figures of three and five in May, according to data from the health department. Over 100 patients each have been put on oxygen as well as ventilator support in September so far, showed the data.
Moreover, in the last three weeks, the number of cases and deaths have more than doubled to 77,057 and 2,288, respectively, as of Sunday. The fatality rate of 2.96 is the highest in the country.
Demand up from 22 MT/day two months ago to 90 MT/day
In the letter to the three states last week, Punjab Principal Secretary (Industries and Commerce) Alok Shekhar alerted his counterparts in the neighbouring states about the shortage of liquid oxygen.
He requested them to direct the industrial units in their states — Air Liquide in Haryana, INOX Air Products in Himachal and Linde India in Uttarakhand — to increase the supply of oxygen to Punjab.
“We estimate that the requirement for government as well as private hospitals will further increase but it’s difficult to say by how much. So the idea is to remain prepared and we keep having review meetings in this regard,” Shekhar told ThePrint.
Talking about the demand, Tanu Kashyap, Managing Director, Punjab Health System Corporation (PHSC), said, “The demand two months ago was around 22 MT per day which has gone up to around 90 MT per day now.”
With the capacity in the state being about 100-120 MT per day, Punjab is dependent on the three leading manufacturers outside the state, said Kashyap.
Local supply measures
PHSC and HiTech, which supply oxygen for both industrial and medical use, have been asked to prioritise supply to hospitals, said Punjab Industries Director Sibin C.
Sibin told ThePrint that Ludhiana, Mandi, Bathinda, Amritsar and Jalandhar deputy commissioners have been asked to call a meeting with refilling plants and oxygen manufacturers in their respective areas to enhance the production of medical grade oxygen.
“Only if the state has enough or in surplus, they can go back to supplying to other northern states that too with prior permission from me, as per orders issued by me,” said Pradeep Mattu, Joint Commissioner, Food and Drugs Administration, Punjab.
Mattu also said he has issued temporary licences to more firms for supplying and refilling oxygen plants. “They have also been asked to charge the rate of medical oxygen as per the price fixed by the Government of India’s National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority,” Mattu added.
The power department has also been directed to ensure uninterrupted power supply to all hospitals in the state.
What experts say
With Covid-19 patient-care protocols having evolved, medical-grade oxygen is considered essential to treatments for critically ill patients.
“Shortage of medical oxygen supply in Punjab and other states is worrying as it could mean that a crucial element of essential care would not be available for some patients, and this could worsen the condition, and even cause deaths,” said Dr Anant Bhan, researcher in global health, bioethics and health policy.
“There is a need for an urgent response at various levels of the health system to reinstate stable medical oxygen supply, and plan for setting up the infrastructure to ensure such a deficiency is not caused again,” he added.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.