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  • Writer's pictureAzera Rahman

Oxygen Generation Plants: Saving Lives Beyond COVID-19


Published on 25 January 2023

Installed to build resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oxygen Generation Plants (OGP) installed in Bihar's hospitals continue to improve oxygen response, sustaining beyond their primary purpose to save lives battling with different ailments.

Picture: Martin Sanchez

BIHAR, India - When 11-year-old Satyam was rushed to the trauma centre of Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) Hospital in Patna, Bihar, he had difficulty breathing and was extremely restless. Satyam’s mother, Reena Kumaria nurse in the same hospital—was well aware of the danger signs.

“My son had pulmonary aspiration—he was drinking water while standing and some of it went into his airway,” she explained as we stood next to the hospital bed where Satyam lay, “His SPO2 level had dropped to 72, and his lips turned blue. I knew from experience that it is difficult to recover if a child’s oxygen level falls very low. ” Satyam was immediately administered oxygen in the hospital. By the following day, thankfully, his condition had stabilised, much to the relief of his mother and the rest of his family.

Oxygen is a life-sustaining gas, keeping all of us alive. We don’t think much about its presence, but when the absence of oxygen supply in hospitals across the country made it into the news during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it injected nervousness among all. To build resilience in the face of such an unprecedented crisis, UNICEF installed an Oxygen Generation Plant (OGP) of 1200 litre per minute capacity in the LNJP hospital. Little did anyone imagine at that point how far the OGP would go beyond its primary purpose and help save scores of lives battling an array of ailments.

They are saving lives every day.

Dr Subhas Chandra, director of the LNJP hospital, said that since it was operational six months back, the OGP has benefitted at least 150-200 patients. “The OGP is connected to the 50-bed trauma centre of our hospital through pipelines. The operation theatre and the post-operative room are all connected to the OGP and have immensely benefitted during surgeries,” he said.

It has also benefitted young patients like Satyam battling other medical conditions. “I felt comfortable once I got the oxygen supply,” he recalled, pausing the game he was playing on his mother’s mobile phone, “I was feeling very restless before that.” Satyam’s SPO2 level rose to an average of 97-98 the day after he was admitted, “he is on antibiotics for a chest infection and will be discharged in a day or two,” informed his mother.

Oxygen therapy can help treat respiratory illnesses and aid emergency obstetric care, surgery and anaesthesia. Its ready availability can help save the lives of children suffering from hypoxemia (low oxygen level in the blood), pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.

In Muzaffarpur, about 75 kilometres from Patna, 51-year-old Aabha Rai credits the OGP in the Sadar District Hospital for saving her life when she developed breathing problems in January 2022. The OGP, with a capacity of producing 600 litres of medical oxygen per minute, was installed by UNICEF in the hospital in December 2021 and has since helped patients in urgent need of the life-saving gas.

“I have a history of respiratory illness and lung problems. In 2020, during the first wave of COVID-19, I tested positive, along with the rest of my family, and had to be admitted to Sadar hospital for four days,” Aabha said, “I again had a mild infection in 2021. To be safe, we rented a small oxygen cylinder and kept it home. But this year, when I began having breathing problems in January, we had to rush to Sadar hospital.”

Aabha’s husband, a lawyer, worked close to the hospital and was aware of the newly installed OGP.

Another patient, 23-year-old Kajal Kumari, was similarly administered oxygen through the OGP pipelines for at least 20 minutes during the caesarean section and delivery of her first child. “I had a difficult pregnancy with various complications that made me visit this hospital and private hospitals many times,” she said as her sister-in-law cradled the newborn. Kajal and her family are from the neighbouring district of Sheohar, about 55 km from Muzaffarpur.

Abhishek Kumar, the GNM, said that while not all C-section cases need oxygen during the procedure, some, like Kajal, do. “I didn’t trust the private hospitals or those in Sheohar; hence we brought her here. I am so relieved we did,” Kajal’s mother-in-law, Pushpa Devi, added.

Boosting confidence

Himanshu Kumar, a technician at Sadar hospital who operates the UNICEF-installed OGP, said that it is connected to the hospital's 100-bed maternal and child health wing, including the operation theatre, the labour room, maternity ward, paediatric ward, and the Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) ward.

“The OGP is connected to a 2000 litre capacity tank where medical oxygen amounting to five to six hours of usage is stored as backup. So even if the plant is not working, the reserve tank will takeover automatically,” Himanshu said. Of all the departments, he said he gets the most calls from the AES ward. “Most of the time, it is to inform that the oxygen cylinder there is half-filled, and I reassure them that we have enough backup,” he said.

Praveen Kumar, the hospital manager, added that the OGP had addressed a pressing challenge of reusing oxygen cylinders by vendors on time.

Both LNJP and Sadar District Hospital expect that the GPS will be connected to more hospital beds, thereby expanding the umbrella of benefits to more people. Oxygen as a lifeline should be accessible to all when needed, including children.

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