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Explained: Patients Gasps for Breath amidst Ongoing Oxygen Crisis in India

Oxygen is currently the most important thing that India needs in order to battle the virus. The country is under a tremendous oxygen crisis, as the production of medical oxygen is not able to match up the rising demand, due to the daily spike in infections. Most of the state governments are regularly putting up their demands for increasing their oxygen quotas in front of the central governments, and some have even started looking for alternate arrangements to manage the crisis.

Why is Oxygen demand increased during the second wave?

During the ongoing second wave of Covid-19 pandemic in the country, it has been observed that more cases with breathing-related issues have been reported across the country. This is primarily because more patients who have got infected during this wave of Coronavirus are getting a Respiratory Tract Infection, where they feel shortness of breath and congestion while breathing. While breathlessness could be symptoms of other diseases as well, but it is also a prominent symptom of coronavirus. Wherein the virus attacks the person’s respiratory system by infecting the Respiratory Epithelial Cells whose primary function is to protect the airway tract from pathogens and infections, and also facilitate gas exchange, within the lungs. As a response, the body’s immune system releases cells that trigger inflammation. When this inflammatory immune response continues, it impedes the regular transfer of oxygen in the lungs, which again leads to the generation of fluids. All these factors combined, make it difficult for the patient to breathe, hence generating a need for medicinal oxygen support.

These oxygen-related complications found in a large number of patients and hence, leading to the oxygen shortage throughout the country. Due to the unavailablity of oxygen on time, a massive number of patients are succumbing to Covid-19 in the socnd wave of the pandemic. Also, people getting infected during recent times require oxygen more than people who got infected earlier. According to a report published in the Indian Express, data with the National Clinical Registry for Covid-19 shows a new emerging trend during the second wave where shortness of breath is the most common clinical feature among symptomatic hospitalised patients at 47.5%, compared to 41.7% during the first wave. This suggests the reason behind such an oxygen crisis in the country.

Oxygen crisis: A simple case of mismanagement 

Visuals of people queuing up in front of different oxygen suppliers have been showing up on different platforms. There have been reports of black-marketing of the life-saving gas, along with some other Covid-19 related drugs, since the past few days. All of this is because the demand for clinical oxygen has skyrocketed, during the ongoing wave of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, India, which was exporting medical grade oxygen to different parts of the world till January this year, is now crumbling due to the shortage of oxygen in different parts of the nation. 

India as a country produces approximately 7000 Metric Tonnes of Oxygen per day, and seeing the current estimated requirements in the country, the production should easily take care of the needs. But this production is unevenly distributed across states and that is the reason why states like Delhi and Maharashtra which have fewer such facilities within their perimeter or have exceptional demands, are facing such a crisis. 

Delhi which is one of the worst-hit states by the pandemic is heavily dependent on the centre and other states to meet its oxygen demands. Almost every hospital in the national capital is running very short on oxygen supplies, even the private ones too, as a result of which, people are continuously losing their loved ones. About 25 patients lost their lives in one of the private hospitals in the capital on Friday, simply because the hospital ran out of all the oxygen that it had, and the responsible production company couldn’t replenish the supply on time. The government agencies too didn’t respond to various SOS calls from the hospital on various social media platforms. 

Similar instances of patients dying due to lack of oxygen have also come up in Uttar Pradesh, which is also witnessing a surge in Covid cases in the past few weeks. The reason behind such shortage of oxygen in states like UP and Delhi is the same. Most of the production of liquid oxygen takes place in facilities located far-off in other parts of the country, and there are various logistical challenges and hindrances that result in delays in the supply to these states. That is the reason why India, despite being a surplus producer of oxygen ( including industrial oxygen), has to now import medical oxygen plants from other countries.

This is a simple case of poor planning and mismanagement by governmental bodies, who didn’t plan in advance for this crisis. The previous wave of Coronavirus already took a heavy toll on our health system, but despite that, it appears that policymakers and the government didn’t learn their lesson. Otherwise, the responsible people of the country would have focussed on running the government than their party’s election campaigns, and the country could’ve been better prepared to face the second wave of this lethal pandemic.

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