Kerala grapples with acute shortage of medical oxygen supply

Kerala grapples with acute shortage of medical oxygen supply
A medical worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) pushes an oxygen cylinder for a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease. File Photo

Kochi: Kerala is facing an acute shortage of medical oxygen supply as the state grapples with the COVID-19 crisis. The price of oxygen has also doubled in the past week.

The crisis intensified after the supply of medical oxygen from other states was stopped. In addition more than half of the oxygen manufactured in Kerala is sold outside.

Complaints have also been raised that an artificial scarcity was being created, taking advantage of the pandemic, and the price hiked arbitrarily.

With even the medical colleges complaining of scarcity, the health sector is apprehensive if the shortage of oxygen would adversely affect the COVID preventive measures.

Price hiked

One cubic metre of oxygen, that was earlier available for Rs 8-10 from gas plants, was sold for Rs 18-20 to the various distribution agencies in the state on Tuesday.

The state has several gas plants that supply small oxygen cylinders. But these only meet 20 per cent of the total requirement.

The rest 80 per cent is supplied in the form of liquid oxygen by tonnage plants, located both within and outside the state.

Oxygen was supplied to the state by plants at Bengaluru, Salem, Chennai, and Kanjikode.

After the pandemic struck and the oxygen consumption shot up, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Odisha took a stern stance that the oxygen manufactured in their plants would be supplied only within their respective states. Only Salem is supplying oxygen for Kerala now, that too in meagre quantities.

Artificial scarcity?

The only liquid oxygen plant in Kerala is situated at Kanjikode. This was set up last year.

Agencies in the state mostly depended on the Kanjikode plant as oxygen was supplied at a lower cost than Bengaluru and Salem in the first phase. However, the sudden hike in prices have pushed the agencies into a crisis situation.

The Chavara KMML stores liquid oxygen for industrial needs. A recommendation has been made to distribute this, if the crisis worsens.

Oxygen supply & consumption

NEET 2019: Interesting facts and statistics

• Daily consumption of oxygen in state - 110 metric tonne

• Liquid oxygen supplied by tonnage plants - 60 metric tonne

• Supply from gas plants (if these operate 24 hours) - 30 metric tonne

• Current shortage - 20 metric tonne

No shortage for oxygen used in treatment: PESO

There is currently no shortage in oxygen used for treatment purposes, Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) said in a statement issued on Friday.

As per the instruction issued by the DGHS, the per day demand of oxygen in the state till October 13, 2020 is 58.01MT, PESO Deputy Chief Controller of Explosives Dr R Venugopal said.

Currently, almost 75 to 90 MT of oxygen is distributed in Kerala on a day-to-day basis. This includes COVID treatment centres and other health institutions.

If you account for the production capacity of the 11 air separation units (ASU) (42.65MT) in Kerala and the INOX liquid oxygen centre (149 MT) at Kanjikode, the state has a total supply of 191.65 MT. This is apart from the 50 MT produced at the PRAXAIR unit in Ernakulam.

Only 25-30MT from the 23 filling centres, including 11 ASUs, are currently used by hospitals.

As per the latest statistics, 45.01 MT of liquid oxygen is available in the filling plants, 33 MT in PRAXAIR and 186MT in INOX Kanjikode. A total reserve of 264 MT is available.

A look at the production capacity and oxygen reserve will reveal that there is no shortage of oxygen for treatment in the state, the statement concluded.

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