NEW DELHI: An almost 20 times jump in the number of Covid-19 patients needing oxygen support over the last 3 months coupled with supply issues has triggered a near scramble in several states as the active coronavirus cases in the country are now just short of 1 million.
As per the data shared by the Centre, the number of Covid-19 patients needing oxygen on Tuesday was 5.94% of 9,90,061, or 58,809. This includes patients on ventilators, ICU or only on oxygen support as patients in all three categories need oxygen.
In comparison, the number of patients requiring this crucial medical supply was less than 3,000 on May 7 when the number of active cases in India were 35,902.
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According to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s Covid-19 treatment protocol, Covid-19 patients with an oxygen saturation level of less than 95% need oxygen support.
Doctors worldwide have found that high oxygen therapy, in which patients in moderate to severe categories are given oxygen at the rate of about 60 litre per minute, could be real life-saver. In the country, hospitals however are struggling to ensure its availability for thousands hanging between life and death.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan, however, denied that there was a shortage of medical oxygen in India.
Out of the total 6,900 MT oxygen that the country produces daily, 2,800 MT was being used in hospitals, supplied as liquid medical oxygen, said the secretary, whereas industry was using 2,200 MT.
“We have, therefore, a headroom of about 1,900 MT oxygen per day as of now but there are issues with inventory management at the hospital level,” he said adding that states have been instructed to set up control rooms to monitor its availability and use it rationally.
Over the last few days, while putting the onus on states to ensure oxygen availability for needy Covid-19 patients, the Centre suggested that some states are restricting manufacturing units in their territory from supplying it in other states which could be creating an oxygen shortage in several places.
Medically, experts say that the increase in the percentage of active COVID-19 cases requiring oxygen could be due to the fact that a relatively higher proportion of individuals infected now require hospital-based care involving the provision of medical oxygen.
“This could also mean that those who are more vulnerable and at higher risk are perhaps more exposed to infection during the unlock period with a rising number of cases, and need this intervention,” said Dr Anant Bhan, a specialist in global health and policy.
The growing number of Covid-19 patients, said critical care experts, could also likely be due to compounding or the cumulative effect of adding on new patients to existing ones requiring oxygen.
“This is because they take a long time to recover,” said intensivist Dr Raymond Savio in Chennai. “Also, with improved treatment, more people now survive into the "rehabilitative" phase wherein also there is a requirement for oxygen.”
Epidemiologist Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, meanwhile, pointed out that as there is growing emphasis on saving lives, clinicians may be using oxygen earlier.
Also, he said, smaller towns and rural areas will likely suffer more because of the paucity, as inequitable distribution of oxygen is a major problem even during normal times.
“In my view, the governments, especially in the states should have been more proactive in ensuring that a larger chunk of oxygen produced is diverted for medical use, rather than industrial purposes,” said Dr Lahariya. “A few months back, the DRDO had also announced that it will set up oxygen concentrators in remote areas but that has not happened.”