Covid: Oxygen crisis worsens in Mulago

Tuesday June 15 2021

Mulago Hospital Commissioner for health services infrastructure, Mr George Otim, demonstrates how the mulago oxygen plants operate in Kampala on December 1, 2020. PHOTO | DAVID LUBOWA

By Tonny Abet

Mulago National Referral Hospital management yesterday admitted that oxygen production in their plants is no longer adequate for the Covid-19 patients   at the facility following a surge in numbers of patients.

The hospital management revealed that there are 195 severe to critical patients admitted to the treatment unit projecting a sharp increase from 21 patients admitted as of May 18.

According to a statement by the hospital management, the facility has turned to private firms such as Oxygas, Roofing and Steel and Tube to source medical oxygen.
Mulago purchases 100 cylinders of oxygen daily.

However, plans are underway to establish another oxygen plant at the facility within two weeks.

Dr Baterana Byarugaba, the Mulago hospital director, said one Covid-19 patient requires about 70 litres of oxygen per minute yet the four plants at the hospital can only produce 2,083 litres per minute.

This means the plant can only efficiently supply high-quality oxygen at the recommended pressure to only 30 Covid-19 patients.
The hospital has a 900-bed capacity dedicated to Covid-19 treatment.


Dr Baterena revealed that the hospital has 180 patients in High Dependency Unit and 15 in Intensive Care Unit, and that their oxygen demand also depends on the severity of the disease.

“It is true that we need more oxygen here. But the plants can produce enough oxygen for non-Covid-19 patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU),” Dr Baterana.
 He revealed that non-Covid-19 patients in ICU require a maximum of 10 litres of oxygen per minute.

Some members of the public have claimed that the hospital is providing oxygen refill for patients outside the facility despite the shortage, allegation the hospital director has dismissed.

Dr Rosemary Byanyima, a healthcare practioner, said besides oxygen supply, they also lack human resources and other essential supplies to care for the patients.
During the first wave last year, some Covid-19 patients alleged they were being asked to buy their own medicine due to a shortage at the facility.

Records from Ministry of Health indicate that there are 920 patients admitted to different treatment facilities countrywide.
The country’s cumulative total number  of Covid-19 cases is 63,099  with 434 recorded. Six new deaths were reported yesterday.

Death rates

Dr Bruce Kirenga, the director of Makerere University Lung Institute, said although the global range of Covid-19 deaths in ICU is around 40-50 per cent, in Uganda it is  60 per cent.
Dr Baterana blamed the poor outcome in ICUs on late presentation of the patient to the hospital.

“We admit people who have been referred to the hospital from other health facilities. The facilities often delay these patients to the extent that by the time they reach here [Mulago], they are on death point,” the hospital director said.

He added: “You find someone’s oxygen level has already dropped to as low as 30 per cent instead of 90 per cent. Such a person is very difficult to bring back to life.”

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