Amidst the nationwide crisis of medical oxygen during the Coronavirus second wave, member of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly, Tulsi Saliwant along with workers from the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) had reportedly stalled an Oxygen supply tanker at the City square from reaching the unloading plant for around two hours. The reason for the halt has reported to have been for the ministers’ Public Relations efforts. Eyewitness accounts indicate that the MLA along with his party workers were decorating the tanker with balloons as part of a ‘photo opportunity,’ a publicity stunt which significantly delayed the supply of a critical medical necessity in the state.
Dangerously low oxygen supplies in the heart of India
The state of MP in central India, faces an abject medical oxygen supply shortage, while the state witnesses a surge in Coronavirus figures. As of 18 April 2021, the tally in MP stood at 89,317 cases. On 17 April 2021, six COVID-19 patients lost their lives as a result of lack of medical oxygen at MP’s Government Medical College, Shahdol. While the hospital administration has confirmed the lack of oxygen supply, they have denied any responsibility for the six Coronavirus fatalities.
Just how bad is this nationwide oxygen crisis?
MP is not the only state to have reported an acute oxygen supply shortage, amidst the scourge of the second wave, as many as 12 of the 29 Indian states face this predicament. The number of patients in need of oxygen support is linked to the soaring number of cases to the point that the Government of India has had to float a tender for the import of 50,000 metric tons of medical oxygen in order to meet the nations medical needs amidst the pandemic. MP requires a steady flow of 250 tons of oxygen everyday to deal with the states 59,000 plus patients. The central Indian state is dependent on its oxygen supply from Uttar Pradesh (UP), Chhattisgarh and Gujrat as MP does not possess its own production facilities.
Maharashtra, which stands out as the nation’s most affected state has reached its 1,250-ton production limit, now having to borrow 50 tons from Chhattisgarh and Gujrat daily. Of the 6.38 lakh active cases in the state, 10% of those infected with the coronavirus require oxygen support, a percentage which surpasses any state in the country. Reliance’s Jamnagar plant in Gujrat is to supply Maharashtra with a 100 more tons of oxygen, to meet the states supply crisis. India Inc too has made a commitment to supply the state with a steady flow of medical oxygen to meet its needs.
With 12/29 states facing a grave oxygen shortage, the requirement for an increased supply are anticipated by medical and disease prevention experts with an excess of 17,000 tons of medical oxygen being procured from states holding a spare supply to provide to the country’s worst hit regions. India has been reported to possess the capacity to generate around 7,000 metric tons of medical oxygen on a daily basis. India’s iron and steel industry have redirected their oxygen production capabilities for medical purposes.
The national fight for oxygen
10-15 in 100 corona sufferers require oxygen supply in India. The burden of this abject shortage is borne the most in small scale medical establishments in the most remote quarter of the country. This shortage is a direct result of supply chain issues. India faces a shortage of cryogenic tankers which enable the steady transportation of medical oxygen. To tackle this challenge the central government has curbed all inter-state travel restrictions for the movement of cryogenic tankers. This includes expedited permits. The installation of pressure wing absorption (PSW) plants in district hospitals is also being deliberated over by the center. This move, if implemented is likely to make district hospitals self-reliant in terms of hospital supply. Plans are also being reported to expedite oxygen supply by leveraging railways and airways. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has emphasised the need for hospitals to police their oxygen supply and ensure the lack of wastage of critical oxygen supply. The ministry has recommended oxygen support to be accorded to COVID-19 patients with oxygen saturation levels lower than 94%. The government has made the announcement that the PM Cares Fund will be used to set up 100 oxygen plants, furthermore, private manufacturers are establishing additional oxygen plants to cater to the increasing demand for oxygen supply.