By Mary Hearty

In an effort to cushion Uganda’s response to COVID-19, the Ministry of Health has received a complete set of one thousand oxygen cylinders worth US$ 233,000 procured by the World Health Organization (WHO) with financial support from the Government of Denmark for the management of critical cases of COVID-19 in the country.

The package includes 1,000 medical oxygen cylinders (J-type with a capacity of 6,800L), 1000 oxygen cylinder regulators and humidifier bottles. Together, these 1000 cylinders when filled with oxygen and the associated accessories constitute equipment adequate to administer oxygen for up to 1000 COVID-19 patients requiring oxygen at any time.

Since the confirmation of the first case of COVID-19 in Uganda in March 2020, the country has experienced two major waves of the pandemic and is now responding to the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron. The second wave experienced an increase in morbidity and mortality of 2.7%, compared to the first wave (0.9%). The deaths were attributed to insufficient oxygen supply in various regional referral hospitals.

The Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng received the equipment saying, “the additional oxygen cylinders we are receiving are an effective response to the current health needs. They will strengthen the management of critically ill COVID-19 patients throughout the country.”

The Minister further recalled that COVID-19 has shown the need to strongly equip health facilities with adequate medical equipment to better respond to emergency health problems affecting the population.

She highlighted the critical support the Ugandan government has received from both WHO and the Danish Government noting, “the Danish government and WHO remain great partners for the government. WHO has been present both technically and strategically to ensure that we respond to the pandemic effectively.”

“The Government of Denmark remains committed to supporting the Government of Uganda in its fight against COVID-19 and in promoting good health in the country. We are proud to partner with the World Health Organization to extend our support to the Ugandan government,” Nicolaj A. Hejberg Petersen, Danish Ambassador to Uganda.

The WHO Representative to Uganda Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam said, “the 1,000 oxygen cylinders will enable the transportation and delivery of oxygen to COVID-19 patients in health facilities across the country. The focus will be on areas where there is insufficient or no piped oxygen.”

He further explained that after managing critical patients of COVID-19, the equipment will then be made available to treatment centres to ensure continuity of essential health services, and for the management of other diseases that require oxygen.

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Presently, most people infected with the virus are asymptomatic with mild to moderate symptoms, 10-15% may develop severe disease, while about 5% progress to critical respiratory illness. The elderly and those with underlying conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease or cancer are more likely to develop severe disease.