By Vrinda Lobo
The devastating second wave of COVID-19 left the entire nation gasping for breath. Covid patients are dying in ambulances, on sidewalks, their homes and in hospitals due to the lack of the life-saving oxygen. To prevent another disaster, the government has launched ‘Project O2 for India’.
‘Project O2 for India’, under the Principal Scientific Adviser, Government of India, is meant to enable stakeholders working to augment the country’s ability to meet the growing demand for medical oxygen.
According to The Office of Principal Scientific Advisor, “A National Consortium of Oxygen is enabling the national level supply of critical raw materials such as zeolites, setting up of small oxygen plants, manufacturing compressors, final products, i.e., oxygen plants, concentrators, and ventilators. The consortium is not only looking forward to providing immediate to short-term relief but also working to strengthen the manufacturing ecosystem for long-term preparedness. The manufacturing and supply consortium also includes Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL); Tata Consulting Engineers (TCE); C-CAMP, Bengaluru; IIT Kanpur (IIT-K); IIT Delhi (IIT-D);IIT Bombay (IIT-B), IIT Hyderabad (IIT-H); IISER, Bhopal;Venture Center, Pune; and more than 40 MSMEs.”
Currently, most of the industrial oxygen in India is undergoing an additional purification step, and then being diverted for medical use.
Speeding up and ensuring the production of medical oxygen is only one part of the solution. During the second wave of COVID-19, a major problem was that medical oxygen did not reach hospital beds on time. The delay is due to the location of production units, a stretched distribution network, and what critics have said is bad planning.
Uneven supply and logistical issues have led to the oxygen crisis in India. It is a reminder of the dependency on interconnected networks that regulate production and supply, and that inequality means life for some and death for others.
Kumar Rahul, Health Secretary, Punjab, told Deutsche Welle (DW), “There is no centralized coordination of oxygen supply and distribution. It is completely haphazard and red tape has held back timely deliveries”.
When India faced the worse crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and was literally choking, the government at first denied that India is facing a shortage of oxygen. Only after pressure from the Supreme Court, opposition parties, media and the outcry of patients and families on social media, the government acknowledged the problem.
With a disruption and delay in supply, the life-saving oxygen unfortunately came too late for many.
Hospitals not only faced oxygen shortage, but many hospitals also received faulty equipment, such as defective ventilators.
If the government does not come to terms with the reality of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has and shows transparency, the ‘Project O2 for India’ will only remain a good will.