The Health Ministry and the Bir Hospital administration must look for ways to install the oxygen plant at the earliest

Even two weeks after the Cabinet decided to convert the new building of Bir Hospital into a unified central hospital for COVID-19 patients, it is still uncertain when it will come into operation. The country is in the midst of a grave health crisis, and the Cabinet decision should have been implemented on a war-footing without entertaining any excuses whatsoever. The 500-bed new building of the hospital should have been not only functioning by now but also coordinating all the activities related to the second wave of the coronavirus throughout the country. Instead, a lack of sufficient oxygen cylinders is delaying the operation of the COVID-dedicated hospital in the heart of the capital even as fresh coronavirus cases show no signs of abating anytime soon. On Sunday, the country recorded 7,598 new COVID cases, slightly down from the earlier days, and 193 deaths caused largely by a shortage of oxygen cylinders and critical care. Many deaths could have been avoided had the COVID-19 dedicated hospital been functioning.

On May 8, the government had decided to bring the country's oldest hospital – being managed by the National Academy of Medical Sciences – under the Ministry of Health and Population until the pandemic is brought under control. The hospital is to have a 100-bed ICU as well as a 50-bed ventilator room. The operation of the unified central hospital is particularly important as it would have a separate COVID war room to monitor and keep records of beds and other facilities, such as ICU beds, oxygen and ventilators, in all the hospitals across the country.

This would allow the hospital to coordinate in the delivery of life-saving drugs and equipment as well as the necessary human resource to those places most in need, while greatly reducing the anxiety of the patients' families caused by the unreliable information currently circulating on the social networking sites. It should also give a more accurate picture of fresh corona cases, the status of those infected as well as the number of deaths across the country. The experience gained from operating the unified central hospital is also to be utilised in setting up similar COVID-dedicated hospitals in all the seven provinces of the country.

The Health Ministry and the Bir Hospital administration should stop the blame game and look for ways to install the oxygen plant at the earliest. Every bed requires about two oxygen cylinders a day, which means operating the COVID hospital will need about 1,000 cylinders daily. It is learnt that it would take at least a month to install the plant and the oxygen tank at the hospital. Following appeals by the government to the international community, help from friendly countries has arrived in Kathmandu, and more assistance is on the way. However, their management cannot be carried out in a haphazard manner or on an ad hoc basis. Everything to do with COVID-19 must now be handled through a one-door policy to enhance efficiency in the delivery of vital health equipment, immunisation of the masses, and treatment of those who have been infected. This makes it all the more necessary to have the COVID-19 unified central hospital in Kathmandu operating soon.

Oxygen plant

Following the surge in coronavirus cases in most parts of the country, government hospitals have started installing oxygen plants on their own. The much-needed oxygen plants are expected to save the lives of those suffering from the virus that has already claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people, half of them since February. Hetauda Sub-Metropolitan City has installed an oxygen plant at Hetauda Hospital as per the directives of the Health Ministry. The plant can produce around 20 cylinders a day, which is enough to supply oxygen to those who need it the most. Hospital officials said it had become quite easy to provide services to the critically ill patients.

It does not cost much to install an oxygen plant in a government hospital. Had the central government instructed all its health facilities to set up oxygen plants much earlier, before the situation turned from bad to worse, many lives could have been saved. Reports from various hospitals reveal that most of the people died of the respiratory contagion due to unavailability of oxygen cylinders in time. As oxygen cylinders are being supplied from within and outside the country, let's hope the COVID-related deaths will go down in the days to come.

A version of this article appears in the print on May 25, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.