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Regions left gasping for oxygen

2021-07-08  Steven Klukowski

Regions left gasping for oxygen

 Eveline de Klerk

 Obrein Simasiku

 Steven Klukowski


Hospitals in the Erongo, Oshikoto and //Kharas regions are suffering from an acute shortage of medical oxygen despite government and private sector orders to ensure
an uninterrupted supply of life-saving oxygen. 

The growing number of Covid-19 infections experienced in the Erongo has placed severe strain on government hospitals in the region, especially at Omaruru, Usakos and Swakopmund. In the //Kharas region, governor Aletha Frederick said the high demand for medical oxygen cannot match the supply as more people are hospitalised with Covid-19.

 She continued that the supply of oxygen to
health facilities not meeting the high demand is a crisis experienced in all 14 regions. Addressing journalists yesterday, Erongo governor Neville
Andre said state hospitals are in need of oxygen plants to cater for the growing number of patients admitted and in need of life-saving oxygen. The region reported 202 new Covid-19 infections
on Tuesday, with 72 hospitalised confirmed cases. 

“The current oxygen supply, through the cylinders, is not sufficient or sustainable,” Andre said. 

The Walvis Bay facility is the only hospital in
the region that has an oxygen plant that was
donated by the China National Uranium
Corporation last year. Andre explained refills for oxygen currently take place in Windhoek only,




whereby the region has to send trucks on a daily basis to Windhoek as Erongo does not have the capacity to do so. 

“This is a costly exercise and puts strain on our already scarce resources,” Andre said. Frederick noted hospitals in //Kharas were overwhelmed as they have to treat both Covid-19 patients and others presenting
with other illnesses. 

“The number of cases has increased significantly, so have the number of hospitalisations increased in the country as well as //Kharas region. With the increased number of hospitalisations, there is additional pressure on the oxygen generating systems due to the high demand because of the rising Covid-19 cases, as well as other general patients who require oxygen which means more patients require mechanical ventilation,’’ she said. 

//Kharas health director Sandara
Owoses said the oxygen supply was only delivered to the region once a week. 

“We do, however, use this oxygen for both Covid-19 patients as well as those needing to undergo urgent surgery. I do, however, concur with the honourable governor that the demand for oxygen can never match the supply in //Kharas region at this stage,’’ she said.


Oshikoto struggles

Meanwhile, hospitals in the Oshikoto region continue to run out of beds and oxygen as patient numbers soar. The acting health director Dr Siriji Saad Rwehumbiza said hospitals have been faced with an acute shortage of oxygen, although there are oxygen plants installed at some facilities such as Onandjokwe, Omuthiya and Tsumeb. 

He, however, said Tsumeb has a 6.5 tons oxygen plant as a backup. He said the supply is low compared to the rising need for ventilators. 

“We have about 520 beds at Onandjokwe overall with over 200 000 people that depend on this hospital. Do you think that we can cater for all if people themselves are not doing the right thing in the first place?” asked Rwehumbiza. 

“We are trying our best, but if the community doesn’t play their part,
hospitals will not help. They should avoid the little things like partying, shebeens and not wearing masks. Also, they should not wait until they get sick to seek medical attention.” 

On vaccination, Rwehumbiza further advised the eligible persons to get vaccinated as that is one way to protect themselves. “To date, we have a combined total of 5 148 people vaccinated with first the dose of both AstraZeneca and Sinopharm. While 827 have been fully vaccinated with the second dose,” said Rwehumbiza, while appealing to the community to adhere to all protocols in place, as hospitals will be unable to treat everyone at once. 

“Vaccination is the strongest weapon.
Let’s protect ourselves,” he added, while
saying the region has adequate personal protective equipment. Sharing similar sentiments, Onandjokwe medical superintendent Dr Akutu Munyika said two sections reserved for Covid-19 isolation and intensive care unit (ICU) are all full to capacity. 

“We are now in the process of evacuating another ward so that this can also be used for Covid-19 patients as the current facilities are full to capacity,” said Munyika, further stressing that a lack of oxygen has also been a problem in assisting those on ventilators.


Community involvement

Individuals, community and business personnel in Tsumeb have pulled resources together to get a cold freezer container to supplement the existing hospital mortuary, which has become overwhelmed due to increased Covid-19 deaths. Tsumeb councillor Gottlieb Ndjendjela said this week they were clearing the area at which the container will be installed at the Lombard hospital in Tsumeb. 

“People have realised how serious the pandemic is and have now come together to join the fight. Cenored has already agreed to be on board and provide electricity to the freezer container to be used as a mortuary. 

The mayor of Tsumeb Mathews
Hangula summoned a grader to the site to assist,” said Ndjendjela. Meanwhile,
Munyika said they are also expecting a
large freezer container from the health ministry as a backup in the event of a crisis. He said the hospital has a mortuary with a capacity of 24 as well as a smaller one, which can accommodate six corpses. 

“We are not really faced with a challenge of space in our mortuaries at the moment, but this initiative is a backup as we were experiencing a sharp increase of admissions and deaths lately,” he said.

Furthermore, Rwehumbiza said the Tsumeb hospital has mortuary capacity of nine, Onandjokwe (24), Omuthiya, Okankolo, Onyaanya and Onayena six each, respectively. “However, mortuaries for Onyaanya and Onayena still need to be fixed, and parts need to be imported. We are also enlisting the services of private undertakers such as Nambob, Angels and Ndilimani,” he said.


Uninterrupted supply

Health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula
late last month said there would be no shortage of oxygen in state hospitals for at least the next three months as the problem has been dealt with successfully. Shangula’s comment follows the donation by the business community, through the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI), to steadily supply medical oxygen to the health ministry to help fight Covid-19. Through the NCCI, members have pledged to deliver a 21-ton oxygen tank each week for the next three months, up to September this year. 

Furthermore, a 20-ton bulk liquid oxygen tank dedicated to supply medical oxygen for the Katutura respiratory unit was installed and commissioned recently. With financial assistance from the Social Security Commission, a new gas generating system with the capacity of producing 370 litres of oxygen per minute was also installed and commissioned this week. This system is dedicated to supply oxygen to the Covid–19 intensive care unit at the Windhoek Central Hospital, while the existing system will continue to serve the hospital, as was the case before.

2021-07-08  Steven Klukowski

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