Only 15 per cent of the total oxygen manufactured in the country is used for medical purposes
During the first week of April, the National
Health Service in the United Kingdom had written to all hospitals to report the availability of medical oxygen
immediately, worried about a serious shortage in that country following the Covid-19 outbreak. A similar scarcity was reported in the United States, Italy and Germany, after the daily consumption of oxygen
tripled in these countries.
In India, however, the consumption of medical oxygen
has shown an average drop of over 20 per cent to 700 tonnes a day in April from over 900 tonnes last year. Despite this, the government of India has decided to allow industrial oxygen manufacturers to make the gas for medical use in order to avoid the kind of shortage that was seen in developed countries following the pandemic.
Only 15 per cent of the total oxygen manufactured in the country is used for medical purposes. The remaining has industrial applications in steel plants, rolling mills, automobile sector, ship building, glass industry and fabrication works, among other sectors. “At present, we have an ample daily stock of over 80,000 tonnes on a pan-India basis. industrial activity is low due to the and lockdown
and hence oxygen from the factories can be diverted for medical purposes in case of an emergency,” said Saket Tiku, president, All India Industrial Gases Manufacture’s Association (AIIGMA).
Though concerns were raised in India about the shortage of ventilators, the availability purified of medical oxygen for these devices are equally important. Two of the world’s largest suppliers of the medical grade, Air Liquide SA and Air Products and Chemicals, had recently come out in public stating that they were exploring ways to ensure supplies of the gas remain sufficient for treatment of Covid-19 patients.
Conversion of industrial oxygen to medical grade would involve keeping impurities such as water vapour, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide under permissible limits. With the government decision, patients staying in even remote areas will have easy access to medical oxygen now. India has over 600 oxygen-filling units and a daily installed capacity of 22,000 tonnes, including captive capacities by major steel plants. Oxygen manufacturers trap the gas from the atmosphere.
"Almost 97 per cent of industrial oxygen production is shut now. Whoseoever is producing it, is adding the to their inventory. We were expecting a 7-10 per cent growth in annual demand of oxygen, but with the lockdown, we are (now) expecting a de-growth," said Siddharth Jain, executive director, Inox Group, which claims to manufacture almost 40 per cent of medical oxygen in India.
Not just oxygen, the government is working on increasing the stockpile of almost all medical equipment. “A major reason for the drop in demand for medical equipment and oxygen is the drop in elective surgeries. Less than 20 per cent of the elective surgeries are happening now,” said Pavan Choudary, chairman of Medical Technology Association of India. The government is trying to create a stockpile of medical equipment too, 80 per cent which is imported from the US, Europe and Japan.