By Sharon Atieno

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across Africa, there is need to equip health systems with necessary medical supplies that are required to fight the disease not just personal protective equipment for the health workers, ventilators for the patients but also oxygen.

The oxygen gap in African countries is so dire that 25% of health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa never have oxygen available while 32% have an irregular supply.

However, a company dubbed Hewatele founded by Dr.Bernard Olayo is changing this situation in Kenya, making oxygen available even in remote areas.

In order to limit the distance needed to bring oxygen to hospitals-some being more than one thousand kilometers away- Olayo built oxygen plants in several of the busiest hospitals in the country which have high demand and reliable electricity for production.

The Siaya plant serves all facilities within the western, Nyanza and Trans Nzoia zones. The Nakuru plant is set up to serve much of the North Rift areas and parts of Central Kenya. The Nairobi plant takes care of the larger Nairobi market and also supplements Central Kenya and Ukambani zone.

The oxygen distribution is done using a milkman model, where the oxygen is dropped off in oxygen cylinders to the surrounding hospitals and clinics; and returned when empty, for refilling.

The company formed in 2014, is poised to play a critical role in the management of COVID cases in Kenya with the government approaching it to scale up oxygen supply.

Estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) show that of 3.6- 5.5 million COVID-19 hospitalizations in Africa, 82,000 -167,000 would be severe cases requiring oxygen, and 52,000-107,000 would be critical cases requiring breathing support.

The coronavirus attacks the respiratory tract causing the lungs to inflame and resulting in breathing difficulties. Not only is oxygen a crucial first line treatment but it is also needed to run ventilators.

 “Most COVID patients if you give them oxygen early enough then you stop them from progressing into the most critical stage where they require ventilation,” said Dr. Olayo in a Bill Gates’s Heroes in the Field interview.

“We really need to focus on treating people at this very early stage where oxygen can make a significant difference.”

To meet this surge in demand, the company has increased its human resource to operate 24 hours daily and expanded its distribution capacity.