The prices of oxygen cylinders have been soaring due to severe shortage, amid the rising COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra.
Presently, the COVID-19 cases are at an all-time high in Aurangabad district in Maharashtra. The district is hard hit, with all oxygenated beds occupied since March. Many patients are now seeking to treat themselves at home.
All 2,214 oxygen beds were occupied over Friday and Saturday in the district, and the positivity rate stood at 43.8 per cent in the closing days of March.
Of the total 15,484 active cases reported, around 4,600 are currently staying under home isolation, reported The Indian Express.
According to the doctors, most cases are mild, but some are moderately ill and need oxygen support.
The demand for medical oxygen has risen all across Maharashtra since March. The present daily requirement of medical oxygen in the state is 700-750 metric tonnes, which has risen from 150-200 until the end of February.
In Aurangabad, the daily requirement is 49.5 metric tonnes, up from 15-17 metric tonnes until February end. The patients who are advised to stay in home isolation are finding it hard to get oxygen cylinders.
Muzammil Khan (40), a nurse in Aurangabad's GMC hospital, tested positive in March. Later, his 90-year-old father, Mustafa and his 40-year-old wife also tested positive.
Khan said, "We had mild symptoms, but my father's oxygen saturation started dropping. I am a nurse, but I could not find a hospital bed for him. A doctor advised urgent oxygenation for my father's situation."
Khan was unable to step out due to quarantine and desperately called oxygen suppliers, NGOs, and friends to obtain an oxygen cylinder.
It was only after three tense days that a private hospital official who knew him well agreed to lend one oxygen cylinder.
Oxygen supplier Abdul Hakim and owner of oxygen Zainab Enterprise, who stopped supplying cylinders to homes for a week, said that one cylinder can help only one patient at home. In a hospital, it can serve multiple patients, he said.
The demand has increased four times since March, and Hakim is unable to retain any emergency stock. This apart, the cost of cylinders has also been continuously increasing.
Due to the current shortage, the state Public Health Department last Tuesday directed manufacturers to supply 80 per cent oxygen for medical use and the remaining 20 per cent for industrial purposes until June 30.
On Saturday, April 3, Maharashtra counted 49,447 cases, the highest since the pandemic began in the state last year.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray acknowledged the shortage of oxygen cylinders and said the state was contemplating reserving the entire oxygen production for medical purposes for the upcoming few days.
The refilling cost of a 7,000-litre cylinder has increased to Rs 350 from Rs 150. The advance deposit for a cylinder at home is Rs 10,000, up from Rs 5,000.
Manish Mittal, the owner of Sagar Gases, which supplies oxygen cylinders to top hospitals in Aurangabad, said manufacturers had hiked oxygen price from ₹ 10 per cubic metre to ₹ 18. He said that he needed more drivers and labourers to transport and handle more oxygen.
Mittal said the government had asked the oxygen suppliers to prioritise hospitals which will affect home supply.
"The high cost of oxygen is still manageable, but the problem is lack of availability of oxygen for home treatment. If a patient neither gets a hospital bed nor a cylinder at home, how will she/he get treated?" says Masihuddin Siddique of NGO, Global Foundation that works with Aurangabad district officials to help patients with medication.
Pharmacist Kishore Waghmare said suppliers also demand a doctor's prescription, and doctors are reluctant to prescribe oxygen for patients in home isolation, fearing government action.