UNICEF, UK Gov’t install Oxygen Plants in Kayunga to save lives

The Oxygen plant in Kayunga commissioned by the ministry of health, UNicef and UK government (PHOTO/David Mafabi)

KAYUNGA–When Mr Nathan Lubega, started experiencing COVID 19 like symptoms, his wife and some family members in Bugerere took him to the nearest health centre, Kangulumira Health Centre IV in Kayunga.

And when the symptoms and sickness intensified, the in-charge of the health centre referred the patient to Kayunga referral hospital urging that the health centre was unable to handle a Covid 19 case for lack of oxygen.

A report by Mr James Roguski, a researcher and natural health advocate says most patients with COVID-19 only experience mild symptoms, but some develop a more severe disease that requires hospitalization and approximately 14.2% to 30% of in-patients are further admitted to the ICU, primarily for mechanical ventilation.

This being the first Covid 19 case in the family that required primarily for mechanical ventilation, Mrs Lubega knew that she was headed for trouble.

And convinced that she could only save her husband well in the hands of qualified medical workers at Kayunga referral hospital, she looked for the only means of transport to Kayunga then; the Motorcycle.

Even when President Yoweri Museveni had imposed a strict lockdown that included the closure of schools and the suspension of inter-district travel to help beat back a surge in COVID-19 cases, Mrs. Lubega determined to save her husband rushed to the stage; got a Boda Boda cyclist who wedged the husband who was half-dead on a motorcycle to Kayunga referral hospital.

They rode furiously for 16 kilometres through the bushy village road to the muddy and almost abandoned road, riddled with potholes for 16 kilometres to Kayunga referral hospital in Kayunga town.

But on reaching the Kayunga regional referral hospital, despite the great pain her husband was in, there was no medical attention given, no medicine and they were told to travel to Mulago national referral were they would get oxygen to save the life of her husband.

Mrs Lubega says she did not have money to take her husband to Mulago national referral and did not have money to fuel the ambulance to transport the husband to Mulago national referral for medical management.

“I started straight away crying, I could not get any help and I turned to God for a prayer to save my husband. My husband had started breathing with difficult and I knew he would die anytime,” said Mrs Lubega.

But Mrs Lubega’s relief quickly turned to despair when the husband’s condition changed at about 4.00 pm, “he died at about 7.30 pm before they could even go out of Kayunga referral hospital

But Mrs Lubega’s story is not different – there are many people in Kayunga, Buvuma, Buikwe, Luwero, Nakasongola and Mukono who died from Covid 19 due to lack of Oxygen at Kayunga regional referral hospital in 2020 and 2021.

Residents equally say that there were many expectant mothers who delivered at the facility and required oxygen for the survival of their babies and could not access oxygen due to distance away from Mulago national referral.

More typically, however, the expectant mothers who attended the launch of Oxygen plant at Kayunga regional referral on 28 May – describe lack of oxygen as the cause of neonatal and Covid 19 mortality in rural communities.

And to fully optimize the use of the new oxygen plants, the UK Government, UNICEF is currently installing an oxygen piping system to support distribution and continuous flow of oxygen to critical areas like the paediatric, neonatal, maternity, post-natal and medical wards as well as the operating theatre within Kayunga Regional Referral Hospital.

According to Dr Robert Ssentongo, the director for Kayunga regional referral hospital Oxygen saturation was the predictor of mortality in hospitalized adult patients with COVID-19 in Kayunga, Buvuma, Masaka, Buikwe and Nakasongola districts.

But now the good news for people of Kayunga and surrounding districts is that after learning about the plight of the people in accessing oxygen in Kayunga catchment areas, the United Kingdom government through United Nations Children’s fund [UNICEF] has procured and installed Oxygen Plant in Kayunga Regional Referral Hospital.

Dr Ssentongo revealed that the UK Government – through UNICEF – has procured a Pressure Swing Absorption Oxygen Plant in Kayunga Regional Referral Hospital, to increase the oxygen producing capacity of the 200-bed facility and other lower-level facilities in seven neighbouring districts in central Uganda.

The Oxygen plant that was procured from GENOME scientific health Pharma energies engineering by UNICEF in February 2022 has today been unveiled and officially commissioned by the Ministry of Health.

Reports from UNICEF indicate that the plants were partially funded by contributions made to UNICEF’s ACT-A supplies Financing Facility [ACT-A SFF], a pooled fund that supports low- and middle-income countries to access COVID-19 health supplies.

Mr Stephen Kimera, the chief technical officer at GENOME said UNICEF Oxygen-Plant has been modified to be more robust, able to operate in high heat and altitudes, and resilient to voltage fluctuations.

“The plants also store a backup supply of oxygen in large cylinders, so patients continue to receive life-saving treatment in the event of an electrical power outage or fault,” said Mr Kimera.

He explained that each plant has the capacity to produce up to 720,000 litres of oxygen per day, capable of supplying the oxygen needs of about 50-60 COVID-19 patients round the clock or more than 100 children with severe pneumonia.

“When Covid 19 struck, my people died because they could not access oxygen, there was equally no hope for neonatal at this health facility for lack of oxygen but we thank the British government for this intervention,” said Dr Ssentongo at the commissioning of the oxygen plant at Kayunga on 28 April.

He revealed that access to oxygen can be the difference between life and death for patients with severe COVID-19 and that it is also a critical treatment for many of the 30 million small and sick newborns born every year as well as children with severe pneumonia.

World Health Organisation [WHO] clinical guidance says that COVID-19 is an acute respiratory infection causing mild or moderate disease in 80% of people affected and that those patients that do become symptomatic, approximately 15% develop severe disease requiring oxygen support and 5% have respiratory failure complications.

Dr Ssentongo explained that Oxygen equipment and treatment are critical components of a country’s effective emergency response to COVID-19, and also contribute to a country’s pandemic preparedness for future outbreaks.

Medical reports from the ministry of health indicate that globally and in Uganda, the demand for oxygen sharply increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, far exceeding the capacity of oxygen generated in many referral hospitals. The scarcity led to loss of lives of critically ill patients who depended on oxygen therapy daily to stay alive.

It is also true that oxygen has remained a critical treatment for small and sick new-born, children with severe pneumonia and other life-threatening respiratory diseases common among children under five years and mothers with delivery complications.

Dr Ssentongo said that since the onset of the pandemic, the Ministry of Health with support from UNICEF has been working tirelessly to expand access to life-saving oxygen and that to date, UNICEF has supported a total of three oxygen plants that have been procured and installed in Soroti, Kabale and Masaka regional referral hospitals.

He explained that the additional oxygen plant in Kayunga RRH will therefore sustain the hospital oxygen needs as well as cater to those of other health facilities in seven neighbouring districts of Buikwe, Jinja, Kayunga, Kamuli, Luwero, Mukono and Nakasongola through a production of up to 140 cylinders daily.

The Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) Director for British High Commission Kampala, Mr. Andrew Ockenden said during the peak of the second wave of COVID-19 Uganda experienced an acute shortage of Oxygen.

“And thanks to the strong partnership between the UK and UNICEF I am pleased that we were able to quickly address this challenge, helping to supply oxygen to 17 hospitals across Uganda and procure a number of oxygen plants,” said Mr Ockenden.

“The plant being commissioned today is just one example of the UK’s ongoing commitment to supporting and strengthening health systems across Uganda, helping to save lives and guarantee Uganda’s health security,” Mr Ockenden added.

He explained that along with the plant, the UK Government has also supported the procurement of oxygen delivery equipment that includes 100 Oxygen cylinders, 40 oxygen concentrators, over 15,000 face masks and oxygen masks for adults and children for distribution to Soroti, Kayunga, Kabale and Masaka Regional Referral Hospitals.

“And an additional seven health facilities benefitted from oxygen cylinder refills and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including surgical masks, aprons, hand sanitizers and liquid soap to support Infection Prevention and Control efforts, thereby guaranteeing the safe delivery of health care during the pandemic and beyond,” added Mr Ockenden .

Dr. Munir Safieldin, the UNICEF Representative in Uganda said during COVID-19 pandemic, the immediate availability of medical oxygen became the defining line between life and death in the Intensive Care Units (ICUs).

He added that UNICEF and FCDO joined hands to save lives of COVID-19 patients in ICUs by supplying medical oxygen and that the good news is that the oxygen plants and oxygen cylinders we supplied were also critical to saving lives of thousands of small and sick babies with breathing difficulties throughout the year.

“UNICEF remains grateful to the UK Government for this timely support that will supplement other high impact interventions aimed at saving the lives of children and women in Uganda, as the nation continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is the time to build back better,” he added.

While speaking at the launch on behalf of the ministry, Dr Joseph Okware, the director of health services reminded the people about what they went through during the second wave of Covid 19 [Delta] and asked them to guard the oxygen plant jealously.

Dr Okware said the government was making strides increasing the production of oxygen across the country to save lives of Ugandans and asked Ugandans to stop abuse of oxygen and provide accountability.

“Oxygen is going to be produced here, parked here in cylinders but to ensure that the people who produce it are accountable as the government addresses the issues relating to insufficient human resource,” said Dr Okware who represented the minister of health Dr Ruth Aceng.

Dr Okware explained that the oxygen plants will be crucial to help the Government meet oxygen needs for COVID-19, with the country needing an estimated 8,000 cylinders of oxygen daily adding that in the long term, they will also be able to be integrated into the health system to provide medical care for children with pneumonia, premature newborns, or patients undergoing surgery, saving thousands of lives.”

Dr Okware asked the hospital management to ensure the new plant is serviced well for better and to ensure for once to take interest in this plant is well maintained to serve the people in Kayunga regional referral catchment area.

Mr Andrew Muwonge the LCV chairman for Kayunga pledged to keep supervising the hospital to ensure that the oxygen plant is maintained well to provide the service to the community.

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