Oxygen, one of the most important weapons to keep coronavirus patients alive, is under-supplied and has become a powerful symbol of chaos in Peru. Desperate citizens turned to a thriving black market with tanks that were sold on social media and e-commerce sites at exorbitant prices.
One of those looking for oxygen was Carlos Roque Rojas, 41, whose 81-year-old mother developed fever and breathing difficulties. He looked for oxygen everywhere, but ultimately failed. “My mom was abandoned,” said CNN. “Oxygen demand was too high.”
Roque, who lives in the Loreto region in the Amazon Basin, explained that people who died right next to a hospital collapsed before their eyes. Soon his mother died.
Roque’s experience shows the chaos created by the pandemic in the region. The two doctors told her that her mother was a coronavirus, but the tests after her death were negative, and the cause of death was recorded as pneumonia. “I don’t know what to believe,” said Roque to CNN, but it was clear that finding oxygen would help him live.
He said it was “incredible” for the country to be prepared for an epidemic. “They need to improve our health system,” he said. “They need to cure oxygen plants.”
The coastal city Lambayeque is one of the hot spots, and Marcela Puicón, 30, struggles to find a source of oxygen for a tight family member.
Puicón’s 60-year-old father fights pneumonia after he has been infected with coronavirus and also has a pre-existing lung condition. Puicón and his six siblings decided to treat their fathers at home, but none of them could work due to ongoing interlocking measures and a daily struggle to provide medicines and oxygen due to lack of income.
“I feel helpless, angry and angry, I feel like my hands are tied,” he said to CNN. “My father is sick and we cannot afford anything very important for his survival.”
The government promised to help
On Thursday, Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra accepted the public and announced emergency measures to increase medical production and access to oxygen and declared gas a strategic health source.
“We are providing resources to the Ministry of Health to purchase the amount of oxygen we need at the national level to treat patients by our technicians,” Vizcarra said at a press conference. “We allocate 84 million base ($ 24.5 million) to the Ministry of Health to purchase the oxygen supply needed at the national level.”
Vizcarra also noticed problems with distribution and cylinder shortage. “The same decree also provides for the transfer of 11 million bases to set up oxygen networks and protect oxygen facilities in Lima and its regions,” he said.
Peru was one of the first in the United States to take strict preventive coronavirus measures, such as home orders, curfews and border closures.
However, locking measures could not be implemented. Most of Peru’s poor people have no choice but to venture outside their homes for business, food or financial transactions, crowding in markets, public transport, and outside banks.
According to the Peruvian National Institute of Statistics and Information, over 72% of Peruvian economist and assistant professor Kristian Lopez Vargas at the University of California, Santa Cruz, live in overcrowded conditions. Go out every day to earn enough money to survive.
“[Peru] In addition to some strengths we have seen in other countries in Latin America, there are also some weaknesses, “says Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and Director of Communicable Diseases and Environmental Determinants of Health, Marcos Espinal.
Among those investments, there are also missing investments in Peru that spend less than 6% of GDP on public health proposed by PAHO, Espinal said despite efforts to allocate more resources to the industry in recent years. According to the World Bank, the country spent 3.165% of GDP for public health in 2017.
Peru also has less than two hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants, this is insufficient, Espinal said, but it is not clear what caused the oxygen shortage problem. “It’s hard to give this answer,” he said. “There may be several factors at the end of the day.”
Javier Gallardo, who runs Oxígeno y Derivados, which distributes Lima-based oxygen to patients at home, said that oxygen deficiency is critical and worsening.
“Demand from hospitals and health clinics has increased by four or five because coronavirus patients need large amounts of oxygen for their treatment.” The shortcomings affect gas cylinders and oxygen itself, Gallardo told CNN. “Unfortunately, we’re running out of stock,” he said, and the company is working to protect supplies that have other ailments, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pulmonary fibrosis, as well as coronavirus patients.
Despite the demands, Gallardo’s company did not raise its prices unlike sellers on the black market.
Gallardo said this was a “mystery” where black market oxygen came from, but spoke to customers who said that the cylinders selling for 1,200 soles ($ 353), that is, charge it now have changed hands for 5,000 soles ($ 1,470). ) each one. “This is an extreme thing,” he said, adding that severe or critical coronavirus patients can use oxygen every 6-8 hours or four per day.
“Oxygen demand is critical and there was no plan to face this problem from the start of the pandemic, we should consider that the current demand is 50% higher than normal,” NGO general manager Leonid Lecca said. He told CNN Healthcare Peru partners and lecturer at Harvard Medical School.
Communities created resources to get oxygen
In contrast, communities across the country are trying to provide oxygen.
In Iquitos, the capital of the Loreto region in the Amazon basin, Iquitos’ Apostolic Vicariate Manager Father Miguel Fuertes launched a donation campaign to help those in need. “There were too many patients and no oxygen for them, hospitals collapsed, and you could see the desperate people walking around the streets with oxygen tanks,” he said.
Fuertes said that his donation to CNN has received 2 million bases ($ 588,544) so far and has managed to purchase three oxygen plants with money, but there are still shortcomings in the area.
Father José Manuel Zamora Romero, father of father in Lambayeque, north of Peru, also launched a campaign to supply food to those who need a campaign called #ResisteLambayeque and to supply oxygen tanks and medicines for the virus traps.
“Hospitals are not capable of treating these patients, there is no oxygen, and many are dying because of their illness,” Zamora told CNN. Said. “We have bought eight oxygen tanks so far, they are very expensive. None of them are less than 4000 bases ($ 1,175).”
Zamora’s campaign received support from celebrities like national football team star Paolo Guerrero and donated one of the oxygen tanks to Puicón to help treat his 60-year-old father at home.
But the other problem is to pay for refilling, i.e. if there is any oxygen. “We need to fill the tank every day and because we can’t work and pay the costs,” said Puicón, who had to pay 170 soles ($ 50) to refill. “Oxygen is sold almost everywhere, and prices continue to rise.”
Gallardo, the oxygen delivery company, said the real problem is that it doesn’t produce more medical oxygen, but there is a lack of cylinders. Normally people send empty cylinders to be refilled immediately, but many patients cling to them as a precaution, given the current famine. “We must move on to safer and more efficient oxygen supply systems step by step,” said Gallardo. Said.
But people like Puicón need help right now to replenish the donated oxygen tank. “We say one place, another place every day, and we try to find the money,” he said. “This situation is impossible.”
Analyst. Amateur problem solver. Wannabe internet expert. Coffee geek. Tv guru. Award-winning communicator. Food nerd.