Afghanistan running out of oxygen as Covid surge worsens

Published June 19, 2021
Men wait outside a privately owned oxygen factory to get their oxygen cylinders refilled, in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 19. — AP
Men wait outside a privately owned oxygen factory to get their oxygen cylinders refilled, in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 19. — AP

Afghanistan’s government is racing to ramp up supplies of oxygen as a deadly third surge of Covid-19 worsens, a senior health official told The Associated Press in an interview on Saturday.

The government is installing oxygen supply plants in 10 provinces where the increase in Covid cases in some areas is hovering around 65 per cent, health ministry spokesman Ghulam Dasigi Nazary said.

By the World Health Organisation's recommendations, anything higher than 5pc shows officials aren’t testing widely enough, allowing the virus to spread unchecked. Afghanistan carries out barely 4,000 tests a day and often much less.

Afghanistan’s 24-hour infection count has also continued its upward climb from 1,500 at the end of May when the health ministry was already calling the surge “a crisis”, to more than 2,300 this week.

Since the pandemic outbreak, Afghanistan has reported 101,906 positive cases and 4,122 deaths. But those figures are likely a massive undercount, registering only deaths in hospitals — not the far greater numbers who die at home.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan received 900 oxygen cylinders from Iran on Saturday, part of 3,800 cylinders Tehran promised to deliver to Kabul last week. The shipment was delayed by Iran’s presidential elections, said Nazary.

Afghanistan has even run out of empty cylinders, receiving a delivery of 1,000 last week from Uzbekistan.

Meanwhile, hospitals are rationing their oxygen supplies. Afghans desperate for oxygen are banging on the doors of the few oxygen suppliers in the Afghan capital, begging for their empty cylinders to be filled for Covid infected loved ones at home.

Abdul Wasi, whose wife has been sick for nearly 10 days, has been waiting four days for one 45-litre cylinder to be filled at the Najb Siddiqi oxygen plant in east Kabul. Scores of mostly men were banging on the 10-foot steel gate of the oxygen plant. Some rolled their empty oxygen cylinders up against the gate, while others waved small slips of paper carrying the number of their cylinder inside the plant, waiting to be filled.

Wasi said there were no hospital beds for his wife, whose oxygen level hovers around 70-80pc. They are rationing her, he said, giving her small amounts of oxygen when it drops to around 45 -50pc.

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