Opening 15 Oxygen Centers in Peru Amid COVID-19

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Centers will tackle the oxygen gap

Posted on May 9, 2022

Inside the oxygen center in Florencia de Mora, opened by Socios En Salud, as Partners In Health is known in Peru, in partnership with the Ministry of Health. (Photo by Monica Mendoza / Partners In Health)

As COVID-19 cases surged across Peru in early 2021, many people had no choice but to stand in line for hours on the streets of Lima, even as they or their loved ones struggled to breathe. They weren’t lining up for masks, or tests, or sanitizer. They needed oxygen.

The lifesaving resource was already nearly impossible to find in Lima, a city of more than 9 million—running low in hospitals, selling out in stores, and price gouged by online vendors. Medical oxygen is a last line of defense against COVID-19, a virus that attacks the respiratory system. And for tens of thousands of Peruvians, it never came.

Although COVID-19 cases have since fallen, oxygen remains an essential—but limited—resource in Peru, where new variants and respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis remain ever-present threats.

To tackle the oxygen gap in Peru, Socios En Salud, as Partners In Health is known locally, plans to open 15 oxygen centers across the country.

The Oxygen Gap

Oxygen is critical for patients severely ill with respiratory diseases from tuberculosis to hypoxemia. COVID-19 is especially demanding on oxygen supply, with the most severely ill patients requiring several liters of oxygen per hour. That oxygen is typically sourced from oxygen plants, tanks, or concentrators that the patient can have at their bedside or take home.

But in Peru, as in many low- and middle-income countries during COVID-19, there wasn’t enough oxygen to meet demand. By early 2021, the country’s oxygen deficit had reached 110 tons per day. An estimated 225,000 patients died at home or in the streets, waiting for oxygen that never arrived, according to Socios En Salud staff.

That breakdown happened for several reasons.

Oxygen plants in Lima’s hospitals were in disrepair, without mechanics to fix them, or lacked reliable electricity to run. Oxygen tanks and concentrators were sold out, price gouged or delayed due to supply chain issues. That left patients and families to scramble to find oxygen anywhere they could, including the black market. But even if patients had a tank—which range in price from 500 soles ($1.31 USD) to more than 5,000 soles ($1,306 USD)—there was no guarantee of a refill.

Even as thousands struggled to breathe, hospitals were running out of beds. Peru has less than two hospital beds per 1,000 people, a reality that, at the peak of the pandemic, led to overcrowding in some hospitals and patients turned away.

Since 2020, Socios En Salud has led a comprehensive COVID-19 response in partnership with Peru’s Ministry of Health—a continuation of its longstanding work in the country, which began in 1994 in response to a deadly outbreak of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in Carabayllo.

The oxygen centers the latest chapter in that long-running partnership.

Dr. Marco Tovar (right), medical director of Socios En Salud, speaks with staff at the oxygen center in Florencia de Mora. (Photo by Monica Mendoza / Partners In Health)
Helping Patients Breathe

As COVID-19 continues to threaten oxygen supply in Peru, Socios En Salud has redoubled its efforts to procure and provide the lifesaving resource in a variety of ways, from installing oxygen plants to training health workers to opening the oxygen centers.

Socios En Salud plans to open oxygen centers this year across Peru, from Loreto in the north to Arequipa along the southern coast.

These oxygen centers are meant to prevent hospitals, particularly ICUs, from overcrowding with patients who require oxygen and monitoring, but not intensive care. The centers provide patients with beds, oxygen concentrators, and 24/7 care. Typically, patients stay three to five days.

While built in response to the pandemic, the centers will boost oxygen capacity in communities where there was little to no medical oxygen before, serving patients for years to come.

“This will save the lives of thousands of people who continue to suffer the consequences of the coronavirus and other respiratory diseases,” says Dr. Marco Tovar, Socios En Salud’s medical director.

Socios En Salud opened its first oxygen center in Carabayllo in March 2020 with 51 beds and oxygen concentrators. Since then, Socios En Salud has opened four more centers—most recently, a 14-bed center in Florencia de Mora, a city in Trujillo province, and a 26-bed center in Los Olivos de Pro, a district in Lima.

Socios En Salud outfitted the center in Florencia de Mora with 24 oxygen concentrators and hired 60 health workers to provide around-the-clock care. The center will serve the La Libertad region—home to more than 2 million people.

Just miles away, an oxygen plant operates at Belén Hospital, installed by Socios En Salud in January. The plant can produce 20,000 liters of oxygen per hour, strengthening the hospital’s response not only to COVID-19 but to other respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.

“All those who require oxygen…will be able to access hospitalization and oxygen therapy services,” says Kerstyn Morote García, regional health manager in La Libertad. “We are very grateful for the support provided by Socios En Salud.”

Socios En Salud staff at the oxygen center in Florencia de Mora. (Photo by Monica Mendoza / Partners In Health)

Originally published on pih.org

Lesotho’s health leaders said the country’s first medical oxygen plant is a landmark for building a stronger health system during COVID-19 and beyond.

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