HOSPITAL beds, oxygen supply, ventilators and vaccines are now on top of public concern as the second wave of coronavirus is spreading its tentacles in ever faster speed. It seems that peaking of infections and a return into the reduction mode is taking some time despite the restriction orders enforced in different parts of the country, particularly the urban centres of the country. The second wave of the virus, which involves its rapid spreading mutated variant, has caused more severe symptoms compared to the first wave that was spreading last year. This time the virus is attacking the vital respiratory system, causing breathing difficulties within a short span of infection. In such a condition, putting a patient on oxygen becomes crucial to save life. Timely access to medical oxygen can save life while its unavailability can bring the worst result. Therefore, supply of medical oxygen has become a matter of high priority. ICU, CCU, HDU, and ventilators have no value if they lack uninterrupted supply of oxygen in the system. It is in this context that oxygen production and supply have now fallen in the priority of the medical care of the COVID-19 patients.
Amid news reports of some COVID patients failing to have timely access to life-saving oxygen, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has said that large hospitals will be equipped with plants to produce their own medical oxygen. Oxygen being produced for industrial purpose has also been instructed to be solely supplied for the medical purpose considering the urgency of this public health crisis. Export of liquid oxygen has now been banned while closed oxygen plants have been asked to restart production. A recent news report in this daily said that the problem with oxygen is more about its supply than its production. This involves availability of cylinders without which oxygen cannot be bottled, stored, transported and used. In this regard, China has agreed to provide 20,000 oxygen cylinders under grant assistance. This friendly gesture of Nepal’s northern neighbour will go a long way to facilitate the crucial supply of oxygen for medical purpose. In the first lot, 400 Chinese oxygen cylinders arrived in Nepal the other day. In addition, ventilators and oxygen concentrator machines have also arrived from China. As the supply of oxygen for COVID-19 patients is a matter of life and death, this issue should be taken seriously by the government.
Another important component in the fight against the virus pandemic is vaccinating the citizens and keeping them immune and protected. It is a matter of pride that Nepal is the first country in South Asia after India to start inoculating its citizens against COVID-19. India provided one million doses of Covishield vaccines produced by Serum Institute of India under grant assistance which played a crucial role to vaccinate the people working in the frontline. Nepal also reached a deal with Serum Institute to procure another two million doses of Covishield vaccines. One million of these shots arrived but the delivery of the rest is pending due to some reasons. Minister for Health and Population Hridayesh Tripathi made it clear the other day that vaccine delivery snag had cropped up due to spiraling of virus cases in India and a fire in the plant of the vaccine producer. Minister Tripathi said that the government is making efforts to procure vaccines from Russia and the USA. Nepal has received 800,000 doses of Vero Cell vaccine from China under its grant assistance, administration of which has already started. The country needs to fight the virus on two fronts-- treating those who are ill and inoculating the rest. Here, the younger population seems to be vulnerable because vaccines are not made for people under 18 years of age.