The COVID-19 oxygen shortage has been going on since last year when the pandemic hit. India is currently faced with a huge need for oxygen therapy, with the first week of April having a single-day spike from 90,000 to 144,000 COVID-19 cases per day. Another spike was observed last May, shooting the number up to 400,000 daily cases.
At present, India is reporting under 60,000 daily cases. Many other countries such as Argentina, Columbia, Iran, Pakistan, and Malaysia have reported a shortage of oxygen to provide COVID-19 patients last May. The demand for oxygen therapy has surged up that there’s a need for 50,000 cubic meters of oxygen per day.
As everyone knows by now, COVID-19 attacks the respiratory system of its host, alters the blood chemistry, and is capable of making some irreversible genetic changes. The attack weakens the lungs and depreciates its respiratory performance. This rapidly depletes the required amount of oxygen for the maintenance, growth, defense, and division of our cells, hence the need for oxygen therapy.
In the case of treating COVID-19, oxygen therapy is the most important solution to save a person’s life. Oxygen therapy is done with utmost care because excessive oxygen intake leads to oxygen poisoning, and cell damage.
Oxygen therapy for COVID-19 patients
The PM CARES’ fund, collected by the government from citizens to deal with the Corona pandemic and crisis, was later allocated for various uses, including the setting up of COVID-19 hospitals. One such example of the PM CARES Fund allocation is the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) 500-bedded COVID hospital in Jammu and Kashmir, India. The most unique aspect of this hospital is that each bed has a 24-hour supply that provides oxygen therapy. I was able to interview the ICU in charge of the DRDO COVID hospital located in Jammu, Dr. A. D. Singh. He shares that “This is my first experience in managing such a unique hospital being built at such a large scale with [an] ample number of beds and massive oxygen supply.”
Dr. Singh explains that doctors will recommend oxygen therapy only if there is a fall in oxygen saturation (SpO2) in blood. He further explains that “On an average, the normal oxygen saturation in blood should be between 95-100%. The levels below 85% are considered to be severe and the patient will have to be put on the ventilator support.”
Oxygen therapy is supplied by two tanks that store liquid oxygen. Each tank contains 20 metric tons or 20,000 cubic meters of liquid oxygen. “Let us say, if all the 500 hundred beds are occupied, then a full tank per day will be required,” said Dr. Singh. He adds that “We do not [use] oxygen, in liquid form usually. But this is an abnormal situation, and the modern tech is helping us a lot.”
Pulmonary ventilation tech solutions
Oxygen saturation measures the percentage of oxygen present in hemoglobin. Lately, the use of devices such as a fingertip pulse oximeter or a smart gadget to check blood oxygen sensors and detect SpO2. In severe cases, tech such as ventilators and bi-level positive airway pressure machines come into play to provide oxygen therapy. A ventilator is a device that supports or takes over the breathing process by pumping air into the lungs. This includes people with severe COVID-19 symptoms. The percentage of the oxygen supplied by the ventilator air can be adjusted based on the damage done to the lungs.
The DRDO COVID hospital is currently using an eggshell-shaped ventilator provided by AgVa healthcare. This portable ventilator was developed by Prof. Dewakar Vaish and his team to provide oxygen therapy in hospitals. The ventilators come with “simple control with minimal distraction and extremely fast learning curve.” The interface has capacitative multi-touch capabilities, and the screen is customizable. This mobile ventilator can also be controlled through gestures.
Pleased with the functioning of the AgVa ventilators, Dr. Singh said, “these ventilators have a good battery backup, are much cheaper, and consume less power compared to the traditional ventilators. They are quite easy breezy. Earlier we had to feed all the parameters to the ventilators and would divide our duties among the team to keep a 24 hours on the patient. But now we do not have to physically present all the time.”
The oxygen tanks are supplied by INOXCVA. On a global scale, this company manufactures cryogenic equipment used by industries and scientific research. They have recently started supplying liquid oxygen tanks to the hospitals for oxygen therapy.
There’s a dire need for oxygen as the world is still feeling the effects of the pandemic. However, with all of these efforts in place, there’s hope to steady recovery as more solutions are created to provide oxygen therapy to COVID-19 patients.
YouTube: Learn about Oxygen Therapy for COVID-19 patients by Dr. Bornali Dutta
Photo credit: The feature image has been done by Michel Corvello Martins. The photos in the body of the article have been taken by Dr. A. D. Singh with permission to be used in this report.
Source: World Health Organization / Vikas Pandey (BBC News) / Worldometer / The Hindu / Business Standard / INOXCVA