Nakuru County Government is putting up a new oxygen plant at the Level Five Teaching and Referral Hospital with a capacity of processing 2,000 tonnes of oxygen per-day.
The facility will supplement the 1,200 tonnes capacity per day plant at the Hospital which is jointly run under the Public-Private Partnerships by Hewa Tele Limited and the devolved unit’s administration.
Governor Lee Kinyanjui said the Hewa Tele Oxygen Processing Plant was overwhelmed by a rising demand in the County as the number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise.
The Referral facility serves Nakuru and more than five other neighbouring counties including Baringo, Samburu, Kericho, Narok, Nyandarua and Bomet. Mr Kinyanjui noted that the plant was also supplying the oxygen to private facilities in the region.
Addressing the media in Nakuru, the Governor who was flanked by County Executive Committee (CEC) Member for Health Dr. Zachary Kariuki Gichuki, said following the outbreak of Covid-19, the Level 5 hospital required an average of 55 to 60 oxygen cylinders of 60 kilogrammes each, every day, an increase from 25 to 30 before the pandemic.
At the hospital, the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), the High Dependency Unit (HDU), 10 theatres and the maternity wing are supplied with piped oxygen, while the outpatient unit has standby oxygen cylinders.
“The new plant will be designed to more than double Nakuru’s current production of medical oxygen which will be sufficient oxygen for our public and private hospitals,” said the Governor, adding, even as we build capacity, we understand that because of the nature of the disease, it is not enough to have ICUs and ventilators if you do not have oxygen.”
Nakuru Level 5 Hospital has an automatic oxygen concentrator launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta, under the Managed Equipment Services, in partnership between the County and the National Governments in 2016.
But since oxygen at the plant is not packaged into cylinders, the management is forced to rely on medical oxygen from Hewa Tele plant.
Mr Kinyanjui observed that health facilities in neighbouring counties were also reporting a worrisome shortage of oxygen.
“The new plant will be equipped with the latest technology. At Hewa Tele we compliment the staff for their dedication and hard work. It is not easy for they are sometimes forced to process oxygen at night to meet the high demand. For example, one cylinder of 60 litres takes an average of 22 minutes to be filled up,” the Governor added.
On the AstraZeneca vaccine, he said that the county was also overwhelmed by the rising numbers of persons in need of the jab. He noted that the numbers of those seeking the vaccine had tripled.
“We have seen the number of persons seeking the vaccine rise sharply and we will do everything possible to have them vaccinated.
So far 63,000 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in our County, making us the second County after Nairobi with the highest number of those who have gotten the jab in the country. We are in talks with the National Government to redirect to us vaccines from Counties that have registered low uptake,” he said.
Dr Gichuki observed that the spike in demand for oxygen by coronavirus cases had a direct impact on other non-corona virus patients and could strain oxygen resources for everyone who relies on it inside and outside medical facilities.
“Oxygen is a key element in response to the pandemic as patients diagnosed with the corona virus might need supplemental oxygen because the infection causes viral pneumonia that paralyses the lungs.
Most Covid-19 patients if you give them oxygen early enough then you stop them from progressing into the most critical stage where they require ventilation,” noted Dr Gichuki.
Last month, Health Cabinet Secretary(CS), Mutahi Kagwe, admitted that the availability of oxygen remains low in public health facilities at 16 per cent, and where available, the supply is not optimal due to lack of necessary distribution and delivery infrastructure.
By the start of April this year, he revealed the country’s demand for oxygen for Covid-19-related emergency medical care had more than doubled.
“The situation now is that the (gas manufacturing) industry is completely stretched. If we go any further than that, immediate steps will have to be taken,” the CS warned.
Oxygen, which was classified by WHO in 2017 as an essential medicine for the treatment of hypoxemia (low oxygen levels in the blood), was finally listed as such in the 2019 Kenya Essential Medicines List, as one of the six inhalational medicines that should be available from dispensary level.
By Anne Mwale