Did Kerala Anticipate the Medical Oxygen Crisis Last Year? Here’s How the State Managed its Supply

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Kerala increased its daily medical oxygen stock to 219 metric tonnes this month from 99.39 metric tonnes last April. The state’s Covid-19 action plan played a major role in increasing medical oxygen supply and storage capacity as states around the country face high demand for oxygen supply amid the raging second wave.

Kerala’s oxygen production has increased from 50 litres per minute last April to 1250 litre per minute this April. This is due to one year’s preparation that began on March 23, 2020, by the Kerala health department and PESO – the central agency monitoring the oxygen supply situation across the country.

Dr R Venugopal, Deputy Chief Controller of Explosives, Petroleum And Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), said: “proper planning and cohesive action by the central government’s PESO and state govt’s health department can do wonders and respond to oxygen requirements of patients. The PESO team and state govt health department searched for more avenues and sought more avenues to be opened up for oxygen production. The BPCL Kochi refinery can give us 0.3 to 2 metric tonnes of oxygen that we took during the last Covid peak. This time also assured that they will be supplying to the govt medical colleges in Kerala free of cost.”

The Inox plant at Palakkad, with a capacity of 149 Metric tonnes and Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited, started liquid medical oxygen production in November and can provide up to 7 Metric tonnes are Kerala’s major oxygen production units.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said, ”We have been able to increase the surge capacity of the health sector. In the current situation, the oxygen that we require is 74.25 metric tonne and 219.22 metric tonnes is being produced in Kerala. Only 50 per cent of the total government hospital’s ICU bed, for both covid and non-covid patients, are currently occupied.

Kerala has been monitoring and estimating the average oxygen consumption daily since last June based on data of the oxygen consumption in each hospital, ICU patients, oxygen support in wards and those put in invasive and non-invasive ventilators. The projected oxygen requirement is 103.51 metric tons as of estimation till April 30 and the state has a surplus of oxygen.

There are regular meetings on the oxygen requirements between PESO, Kerala medical services corporation of the health department, hospitals and industry.

At present, 32 hospitals across the state have a bulk storage facility to store 2 to 30 metric tonne of oxygen. Other sources like the Cochin shipyard that produces around 20 metric tons of oxygen, can be available during an emergency.

Dr R Venugopal said, “Kerala has 11 Air Separation Units (ASU) and they are fully utilised for oxygen cylinder filling capacities 24/7. The planning for this began in March last year and even maintenance issues of some ASU plants, electricity issues were all sorted out. On March 23, 2020, PESO convened a meeting with all stakeholders and directed them that they will have to work 24/7.”

Aparna Nayar, manager of the Trivandrum unit of Southern Gas Limited, said that the oxygen demand has increased in the past two to three days. The unit caters to the needs of Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta districts.

“After April 15, PESO had restricted industrial supply of oxygen. In the last two days, we have fully stopped industrial production and have only been filling medical oxygen. Due to the recent demand for oxygen, we are getting calls from almost everywhere from south India. We got a call from Hyderabad asking for 100 cylinders,” Nayar said.

At the Trivandrum medical college, the oxygen storage tankers initially had a capacity of 20 kilolitres. In February, another storage tanker with 20 kilolitre capacity was set up, increasing the total capacity in the hospital to 40 kilolitres. Direct pipelines were put to more beds in the hospital to increase oxygenated beds to about 450.

Dr Santosh Kumar, Deputy Superintendent, Trivandrum Medical College, said, “Before covid, only two liquid oxygen tanks were present. As part of the covid response, one more oxygen tank and pipelines have been extended to almost 350 beds which is more than three-fold of the oxygenated beds before. To face the second wave, this increased number of ICU beds, oxygenated beds, ventilators will definitely give more capacity to the medical college and help cater to more patients.”

Oxygen is also supplied to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka from Kerala. On April 18, Goa health minister Vishwajit Rane thanked Kerala Health minister K K Shailaja for helping with 20,000 litres of liquid oxygen.

“I extend my gratitude to Smt. @shailajateacher Madam, Hon Health Minister of Kerala for helping us with the movement of 20,000 litres of liquid oxygen for COVID patients in the state of Goa. The people of Goa are really grateful for your contribution to our fight against #COVID19,” he tweeted.

Officials believe that more even oxygen can be produced if such a demand rises in the future.

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