Oxygen crisis hits Nigeria’s COVID-19 response scheme
• UNTH, LUTH grapple with the shortage
• Virus more vicious than ever, LUTH warns
• We’re running out of resources, Bode cries out
• All patients now oxygen-dependent
As the second wave of COVID-19 takes foothold on Africa through its newly mutated form, the Federal Government has been warned of the need to address the shortage of oxygen in public hospitals.
Chief Medical Director (CMD) of Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Prof. Chris Bode, in an emergency press conference yesterday, warned of dire consequences, as “the mutated form is deadlier and more easily transmitted.”
The warning came as Nigeria’s major teaching hospitals — university of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) Enugu and LUTH reported an acute shortage of Oxygen, an important material for keeping COVID-19 patients alive while on treatment.
The Guardian found that the oxygen plant at the UNTH, Ituku, Ozalla, Enugu, which malfunctioned recently had not been put back to use at press time.
Despite the spike in COVID-19 infections, patients and institutions do not go there to purchase oxygen, even when the hospital is the only test centre in the state. Oxygen is not currently sold at the UNTH, even as the hospital relies on other medical institutions for treatment of cases requiring oxygen.
Reliable sources stated that those who required oxygen to treat COVID-19 cases were referred to private or other public institutions in the state.
Efforts to get comments from the hospital’s Chief Medical Director (CMD), Dr Obinna Onodugo on the development proved abortive, just as the Institution’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Cyril Keleze, could not respond to telephone calls or text messages.
An official of the hospital, who spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity, however, said that oxygen was not something that could be purchased by private persons for use.
“The problem,” he said, “is that they don’t want to supply it; this is part of the challenge we face in treating COVID-19 infections. Most people don’t report this matter until they get to an alarming stage and that is when you will require oxygen to put the person in the ventilator. If people could take precautionary measures seriously, we would be able to overcome this development.”
He explained that the Oxygen plant at the UNTH could serve the needs of the entire Southeast zone, when put back to use, and called on the authorities, including the Enugu State Government to make the place work “in the interest of our people. ”
In a press conference, tagged ‘COVID-19 Wave: Public Alert By LUTH, yesterday in Lagos, the CMD of LUTH, Prof. Bode, warned that, unlike the first wave, the mutated form of the Coronavirus was deadlier and more easily transmitted.
“We want to let Nigerians know that it is not over until we are able to tame it. The resurgent mutated form could change form again and it is more easily transmitted from one person to the other and it is more vicious,” he said.
“We must let the public know that COVID-19 is still ravaging; so, we cannot sing halleluiah and think the battle is won and over. I was coming from home this morning (yesterday) and, on my way, I discovered that only one in 50 persons in Mushin was wearing a facemask. Going by our experience in the hospital, if we are not careful, it can easily overwhelm us. State facilities are filling up; we are almost running out of resources trying to combat the virus.”
He observed that there was a significant drop by November 2020 when government instructed that only severely and moderately infected patients should be admitted. “All patients in our ward got discharged, and we moved to a smaller centre, only to witness a rise in a number of patients afterwards, sicker than usual; we currently have 20 patients on admission and all of them are on oxygen and we are witnessing an increase in a number of deaths,” he said.
He advised that Nigerians must continue to observe the dos and don’ts of COVID-19 management, which were publicised since the early period of the pandemic.
“Nigerians must shelve all forms of social engagements because many of the people in the wards had been to one social event or the other. Many of them are those people that enjoyed the yuletide in excess. So, (there should be) no party, church or mosque, Nigerians must tell themselves that it is better to stay alive. Nigerians must continue to maintain social distancing of at least six feet, and we must tell each person we meet to put on his or her nose mask. I sent a message to my dad, pastor and others not to visit me when I travelled home for Christmas; it’s a way to protect them and myself. So, if you love yourself and relations, stay away from them and let them also stay away from you.
“If you are feeling unwell, feel COVID; we must tell one another that there is no need to cover one’s self in a hot bucket, steaming with Gallic, Ginger and Lemon; it makes someone feel good, but it is not attacking the disease; and by the time our people come to the hospital a week later, the chest is already clogged up and damaged by COVID-19. Many who died have co-morbid factor. Imagine somebody having hypertension, diabetic, asthmatic or chronic disease and above the age of 60 but chooses to use steam inhalation for a week; the chest is already clogged, even when we are giving them 100 per cent oxygen at a very high rate, they cannot absorb it because the lung has been clogged, so, if anyone is feeling unwell, he should immediately consult a doctor early. We don’t want it to be too late before the patient comes.
“We are alerting the public on what is going on so that we can take adequate precautions. Just praying without doing the hard work of wearing masks, observing social distancing, shunning avoidable meetings, will be meaningless.
‘‘We’ve always had our oxygen plants in LUTH, which is a PPP project; several months ago, the machine was upgraded at our request, and we are now using more than 120 cylinders a day for all the patients. Our oxygen demand has overwhelmed the bigger plant. The patients in our wards require a high flow of oxygen and the cylinder finishes often. 20 out of 20 patients on admission need oxygen. So, it’s cheaper not to have the disease, it is cheaper to prevent it than to buy bigger oxygen machine; oxygen plants are not cheap, they have to be ordered, shipped, installed and tested.
“We are sounding this alarm because we don’t want to reach that point where the whole system will be overwhelmed, each person must do the needful.
On his part, Head, Infectious Unit, Dr. Iorhen Akase said, “we are seeing more severe cases and these have increased the mortality rate. We have observed that, over the past two weeks, young people in their 20s and in their 30s are dying of COVID-19. Resources are limited, both human and material; Staff is getting exhausted, the hospital is getting overwhelmed. So, if we are unable to control new infections by watching out for one another, we may not get anywhere to take care of people that are down with COVID-19 infection. If our staff get infected or cannot do their work, that will amount to many people coming down with the infection. So, it is important we corporate prevent transmission of the infection within the community.
On which drug to prevent the virus or boost immunity, he said: “As long as a drug for COVID-19 is concerned, we are working with Science. Zinc and other forms of vitamins generally do boost the immunity of individuals and help them against all forms of viral infection, but they are not a specific medication for COVID. They don’t treat or cure COVID. ”
MEANWHILE, feelers from Ilorin yesterday indicated that the Isolation Centre at Sobi Specialist Hospital Ilorin might be the saving grace for any surge in the state.
The Centre, which was equipped by the state, was initially built as a specialist hospital and was converted to isolation centre by the state Governor, AbdulRahaman AbdulRazak at the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The state says it has a testing capacity that can easily help to detect carriers of the virus at early stages.
It said the system would take off envisaged complications that could arise from COVID-19 patients requiring the use of ventilators, the stage believed to be the most critical to the survival of patients.
Unofficial sources said the Centre has 10 ventilators and an effective oxygen plant. Besides, the ‘Hajj Camp’ along International Airport Road Ilorin, built for Muslim pilgrims, had also been converted as an extension of the isolation centre for COVID-19 patients.
These available facilities on grounds have no doubt taken away pressure that could have overstretched equipment at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH), Ilorin in the event of a spike.
The Guardian visited the UITH and found that the hospital was working at its full capacity but insisting on strict observance of all the protocols of COVID-19, by patients, relatives and hospital workers.
A source told The Guardian in Ilorin that suspicious cases of COVID-19 at the UITH were promptly taken to the isolation centres for treatment and proper care.
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