MUMBAI, Maharashtra — As the oxygen supplies at his hospital dwindled Amit Thadani, a doctor based in Kharghar, stopped calling his suppliers and started calling nearby hospitals to look for vacant beds for his patients.
Thirty of Dr Thadani’s patients were on oxygen support, six of whom were critical, while his hospital had just enough oxygen to last for less than five hours.
“I sent 50 cylinders for refilling but they returned empty as the refilling stations did not have oxygen,” he said. Fortunately two patients were shifted to nearby hospitals while a supplier came through with another 20 cylinders of oxygen. A crisis was temporarily averted, but Dr Thadani said he still spent several hours a day just working the phones to ensure his clinic had enough oxygen on hand.
On September 11, Maharashtra crossed a grim threshold of a million cases of COVID-19 — a disease that primarily attacks the lungs and leaves patients gasping for breath. As the pandemic spread from cities to the hinterland, doctors are scrambling to source enough oxygen. Data obtained from the Maharashtra Food and Drugs Administration indicates that the state’s consumption of oxygen has increased 2.5 times in the past three months.
On September 15, the Union Health Ministry said there was no shortage of oxygen in the country and that India actually had surplus supplies. Maharashtra state officials agreed that there was sufficient supply, when measured in absolute numbers, but noted the challenges of quickly shipping large quantities of oxygen from manufacturing centres to individual hospitals scattered across the country.
“There has been excessive demand for medical oxygen but I wouldn’t say there is a shortage. It is more of a distribution issue,” FDA commissioner Arun Unhale told HuffPost India.
Maharashtra’s oxygen crunch, for instance, is being felt in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, a state with over 90,000 cases of its own, which sources its oxygen from suppliers in...