Oxygen plant breathes a new lease of life for patients in Makeni
Making strides to help children survive and thrive
Makeni – At the Special Care Baby Unit at Makeni Hospital in the northern region of Sierra Leone, six prematurely born babies sleep peacefully while receiving oxygen support to help them survive. Four of the babies have difficulty breathing on their own, so tubes have been placed through their noses to help them receive additional oxygen.
Just a few meters from where these delicate lives are getting a fair chance at survival, the beeping sound of oxygen machines can also be heard as two mothers who are in the delivery ward, require additional oxygen flow to their unborn babies.
“Good oxygen supply is important for many of the activities in this hospital, especially at the neonatal ward, the maternity wing, the high dependency unit and the Intensive Care Unit,” says Mohamed Kabia, a Senior Medical Equipment Technician at Makeni Hospital. He walks through the different wards where regular oxygen supplies are required to ensure that everything is in order.
Apart from the regular requirements for additional oxygen support, the recent experience with the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in an increased demand for this life-saving medical gas.
“On a daily basis, we have more than 10 patients who are connected to the oxygen supply. This number increased substantially during the peak of the COVID-19 response as more than 16 beds across the hospital had COVID-19 patients, who also required additional oxygen support” says Mohamed, as he explains the regular need for oxygen in various medical wards or units in the hospital.
In recognition of the urgent need for oxygen and the gap in oxygen supply, which got worse because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a fully equipped oxygen plant was set up in 2021 at Makeni District Hospital. Through the Tackling Deadly Diseases in Africa Program, which is supported by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), oxygen cylinders and other related equipment required for transportation of oxygen from the plant and administration to patients have been supplied to Makeni District Hospital, which became the third hospital in Sierra Leone to have an oxygen plant installed.
Today, this plant is functioning fully and providing a sustainable supply of oxygen for patients at this referral hospital. This boost in oxygen availability has helped not only in the country’s response to COVID-19, but also for essential health needs, such as for newborn care, maternal care, surgeries, and childhood pneumonia.
“An uninterrupted supply of oxygen is essential to reducing mortality due to respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. The installation of this oxygen plant is part of ongoing support to Government’s efforts to improve supplies for oxygen therapy, which is appropriate for the needs and the conditions of this country,” says UNICEF Chief of Health and Nutrition, Yuki Suehiro.
The oxygen plant at Makeni Hospital has been installed in a manner which makes it easy to maintain. The plant is resistant to dust, high heat and humidity, and resilient to power cuts, fluctuations and energy-related challenges. Together with his colleagues, Abu Bakkar Kanu and Sallay Kargbo, Mohamed has also received training on how to maintain this new oxygen plant and the auxiliary equipment. Daily, this team of technicians make the rounds in different hospital wards to ensure that the machines are functioning well, and to repair any faults which might disrupt the direct flow of oxygen to patients.
“We have received very important training, which is helping us to maintain the oxygen plant, and to make sure that all the equipment is used in the right way,” says Mohamed, who appreciates the technical support he has received in the proper maintenance of the plant. “If we do not maintain these machines well, they will not last as long as they should.”
Apart from the three technicians from Makeni, six other technicians from Kenema and Bo have also received training. With good equipment in place and with skilled personal to maintain them, there is increased hope for patients with respiratory problems to breathe easier.