Gearing up to tackle potential COVID-19 surges
The establishment of province-level oxygen concentrator banks is among the key interventions being undertaken by the Government of Nepal – with support from UNICEF and partners – to strengthen the oxygen capacity of health facilities
“The main problem and challenge for hospitals across Nepal during the second wave of COVID-19 was oxygen supply.”
Dhanusha, Nepal: Nurse Roshani Bhujel works at the COVID-19 Hospital under the Madhesh Institute of Health Sciences in Janakpur in Dhanusha District in southern Nepal.
Although the wards at this 100-bed facility, inaugurated in June 2021, don’t see too many COVID-19 patients being brought in of late, healthworkers here are all too aware of how quickly this can change, if what happened during the second wave earlier this year was any indication.
“Everything had escalated so quickly in a short time back then,” Roshani says, recalling the horrific stories on TV and social media of people struggling to get oxygen in different parts of the country.
“The shortage of oxygen was such a nightmare, both for the public and for health workers. A lot of lives were lost because of this.”
To ensure that Nepal’s health system and healthcare facilities are better prepared to cope with possible future surges of the pandemic in terms of oxygen supply, UNICEF – thanks to humanitarian funding support from the European Union – delivered 600 oxygen concentrators to the Government of Nepal in September 2021.
Since then, under the Government’s directive, these lifesaving machines have been distributed across the different provinces to ensure easier access for health facilities as and when required. While a portion have been distributed to district-level health offices, a large number of the concentrators are presently being stored in what are called “oxygen concentrator banks”, established under each of the Province Health Logistics Management Centres or PHLMCs.
One of these concentrator banks has been set up on the premises of the COVID-19 Hospital in Janakpur itself, with pharmacy officer Bharat Sah as the focal point. Bharat explains that after the hard knocks dealt to the health sector during the second wave of the pandemic, the focus since has very much been on readiness – and the bank is a testament to this.
“These are challenging times, no doubt, but if a third wave of COVID-19 arrives in the country, this bank will play a crucial role in the response,” he says.
UNICEF Health Officer Lata Bajracharya says that the creation of the banks, among the different preparedness activities being undertaken across the health sector in Nepal, is very encouraging. “Yes, COVID-19 has certainly highlighted the importance of ramping up oxygen supply and storage, but this is not just limited to the pandemic,” she says.
"Although it was prompted by COVID-19, the work that is being done now will strengthen Nepal’s capacity to treat all critically-ill patients in the long run.”