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    Ministry begins rebuilding oxygen plants as critically-ill patients increase

    Understanding concerns over the shortage of oxygen supply for COVID-19 patients, the Ministry of Health is building new plants and repairing existing ones in order to increase the actual production of oxygen to 3,267 metric cubes per hour, up from the existing 1,805 metric cube per hour.

    The move aims to boost the country’s capacity to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients. Currently, the country has 33 oxygen plants, 20 of which are operational, while 10 are not functional and the rest, three, are being installed. Currently, 1805 metric cube of oxygen is being produced per hour, which is 55 percent of the country’s production capacity.

    “Due to forex shortage, we were not able to repair 10 of the plants. Now after securing the forex from the government, we have started importing spare parts needed to repair the plants that are not functional,” said Yacob Seman, Director of Medical Services at the Ministry.

    Last week, Addis Ababa faced shortages in oxygen, which the Ministry said was the result of distribution problems, asserting that there is enough supply of oxygen for COVID-19 patients.

    “When Ethiopia reported its first case, we came up with different scenarios. In the worst cases, if our critically-ill patients reached 1,300, we estimated that 2,750 metric cube of oxygen needed to be produced,” Yacob told The Reporter.

    With the reported number of critically ill patients reaching 624 until March 19, 2021, the country needs around 1600 metric cube of oxygen, which is 12 percent lower than of the actual capacity of the country. “Yet, fearing the worst may happen, we are increasing our capacity to 3,267 metric cubes per hour. And additionally, millennium hall is getting its own oxygen supply plant, which would further boost oxygen supplies to other health facilities,” Yacob said.

    According to the Ministry, two oxygen plants have been constructed by two private companies in Ambo and Gulele. Currently, 89 percent of aggregate oxygen production comes from the private sector, seven percent by public institutions and the rest is being produced by the partnership of the duo.

    Despite attempts to increase production of oxygen, the Ministry, is being challenged by frequent power outages and lack of technical capacity to install and maintain plants.

    “Maintenance of nonfunctional machines and improving power supplies are the low hanging fruit on hand to address immediate problems,” Yacob said. He added “Especially, interruption of electricity is limiting our capacity to meet oxygen needs.”

    Until March 19, 2021, more than 2.2 million people were tested for the virus, of whom 183,863 tested positive and 2,618 have lost their lives. Last week, officials of the Ministry of Health said that the outbreak is spreading at an alarming rate. The infection rate from the total number of people who are being tested per day reached 24 percent on March 19, 2021.

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