World may witness medical oxygen shortage as COVID cases set to top 10 mln: WHO
The new coronavirus has hit 9.3 million people and killed more than 480,000 so far and is rising by about 1 million cases per week. This has pushed oxygen demand to 88,000 large cylinders per day, or 620,000 cubic metres of oxygen, says WHO.
Supply of medical oxygen will be a major problem as the number of worldwide cases of coronavirus infection nears the 10 million mark, the World Health Organization head said on Wednesday.
"Many countries are now experiencing difficulties obtaining oxygen concentrators," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference. "Demand is currently outstripping supply."
The new coronavirus has hit 9.3 million people and killed more than 480,000 so far and is rising by about 1 million cases per week. This has pushed oxygen demand to 88,000 large cylinders per day, or 620,000 cubic metres of oxygen, Tedros said.
The sudden rise has created a dearth of oxygen concentrators needed to support breathing of COVID-19 patients suffering from respiratory distress.
The health agency has purchased 14,000 oxygen concentrators from manufacturers and plans to send them to 120 countries in coming weeks, Tedros said. A further 170,000 concentrators - valued at some $100 million - will be potentially available over the next six months.
There is a major inequality among rich and poorer countries in terms of the availability of medical oxygen, the primary treatment for the majority of patients who are suffering severe COVID-19 symptoms.
"Medical oxygen supplies starkly illustrate health inequalities between and within countries," says Kevin Watkins, Chief Executive of the World Bank. "[Hospitals in the UK, for instance, are] supplied with industrial quantities of high-grade liquid oxygen, with storage facilities linked to patients through miles of piping and complex valves. Bulk purchases reduce costs. Meanwhile, public financing of the National Health Service means patients receive oxygen free of charge."
"Contrast this with the situation in poorer countries. Most hospitals are supplied by cylinders filled at industrial gas plants and transported by truck. Patients are typically charged directly for the cost of refilling. Treating a child with severe pneumonia over 3-4 days can require anything from 4,000 to 8,000 cubic liters of oxygen at a cost of $40-60. For the poorest households, that prospective bill represents a huge barrier to treatment – if the child is able to get to a hospital with oxygen at all,"
According to a report on the Economic Times, India too is witnessing a sharp increase in the demand for oxygen cylinders.
“There has been a sudden increase in demand for oxygen cylinders and oxygen concentrators," Ashish Grover, general secretary of Confederation of All India Traders and Delhi Drugs Traders Association told ET. "This has not only led to a shortage in the market but also an increase in prices. “People are calling suppliers every day. If we get 20 inquiries, we can supply about four or five.”
The head of the WHO emergencies programme, Dr Mike Ryan, meanwhile said the pandemic in many Latin American countries was still intense as deaths in the region surpassed 100,000 this week. Many countries had experienced 25-50% increases in cases in the past week, he said.
"I would characterise the situation in the Americas in general as still evolving, not having reached its peak yet, and likely to result in sustained numbers of cases and continued deaths," he said.
The United States has criticized WHO's handling of the pandemic, calling the agency "China-centric". President Donald Trump demanded an immediate review and reforms and has pledged to quit the Geneva-based body.
European governments are also working with the United States on an overhaul plan.
While Tedros has pledged accountability and a post-pandemic review, Ryan said on Wednesday the agency was holding internal talks over its actions including what it has learned about controlling the virus.