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COVID-19: The Economics of Oxygen in Uttar Pradesh

The demand for medical oxygen has surged with COVID-19 cases. The government has decided to cap prices.
COVID-19: The Economics of Oxygen in Uttar Pradesh

Image Courtesy: AFP

Lucknow: Manoj Mishra, a 40-year-old journalist associated with a regional Hindi news channel, struggled for oxygen for many hours before he collapsed in July.

Mishra’s struggle for oxygen support at the prestigious Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Lucknow continued for more than ten hours and, according to members of his family, the video-journalist’s oxygen level kept dropping over the period. In the end, he lost his battle due to the unavailability of oxygen support.

It is not just Mishra who has lost life due to the lack of oxygen support. The demand for oxygen has risen at least three-fold since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country.

The demand for oxygen cylinders at hospitals in Lucknow, the state capital of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, was 1,000 to 1,500 jumbo cylinders per day when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March, as per the official numbers from the Uttar Pradesh Health Department. As of now, the official demand has gone up to 5,000 jumbo cylinders in state-run hospitals in Lucknow. A jumbo cylinder is a medical oxygen cylinder which weighs over three kgs and is about 20 inches in length.

oxygen

Official numbers gleaned from state-run L1 and L2 facilities in Lucknow say that 90-100 cylinders were used at the Lok Bandhu hospital per day, earlier. The number has now gone up by 250 to 300 cylinders; in SRMS (BKT) 30-40 cylinders were being used up earlier and the number has now gone up by 180 to 200 cylinders; at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital 350 to 400 cylinders are being used against 150 to 200 cylinders in March. The state of the art King George Medical University (KGMU) uses about 1,100 cylinders per day, a number which was 400 cylinders earlier.

When asked about the increased consumption of medical oxygen, Lucknow’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. R.P. Singh said demand has increased since COVID-19 patients require oxygen support, but said there was nothing to worry about.

We have hundreds of oxygen cylinders in reserve as back-up. Yes, demand has increased due to COVID but things are fine as of now because we also have liquid oxygen in stock,” he said.

Professor Richa Giri from the Lala Lajpat Rai Hospital (Hallett Hospital) in Kanpur said that the “consumption of medical oxygen has increased by a minimum three-fold after the outbreak of COVID-19. Now, 6,000 litres of oxygen is being consumed at the NeuroScience department alone everyday, which is why we have a backup of a tanker of oxygen.”

Notably, Kanpur is one of the worst-affected districts from COVID-19 in Uttar Pradesh, and the Hallet hospital is the biggest state-run healthcare facility dealing with the pandemic in the industrial district.

A Surge in Price:

With demand having increased, prices have shot up across Uttar Pradesh. Taking cognisance of the sudden increase in prices, the government has asked the suppliers to fulfill the demand but supply oxygen at older rates.

We have asked oxygen suppliers to first supply gas to COVID hospitals and then send the leftover to industries so that hospitals get top priority. Liquid oxygen is not under price controls but the government is also planning on putting a cap on oxygen price, which will be a big relief to the hospitals. We have asked suppliers to provide the gas at earlier rates and also ensure a smooth supply. There are two oxygen suppliers who run plants in Lucknow. The state capital needs about 3,200 cylinders for various hospitals. Hence, strict instructions have been given to supply the gas first to hospitals so that prices do not escalate,” said B. Kumar, a drug inspector in the Food Safety and Drug Administration department.

Notably, the jumbo cylinder was priced at Rs 250 in early August. However, prices first went up to about Rs 450 per cylinder and then to Rs 1,350 in the first week of September. The price of the B-type small cylinders has risen from Rs 125 to Rs 400 per cylinder.

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