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A breath of fresh oxygen

There is nothing nightmarish during this coronavirus pandemic than the thought of a hospital running short of oxygen gas. It is a horrifying thought, more so because it is literally a lifeline for patients of COVID-19. Oxygen gas is that thin line between life and death for such patients and lack of it will only result in one obvious thing – death. The advent of COVID-19 has caused a scramble for oxygen gas as doctors and health workers strive to save the lives of coronavirus patients. It is, therefore, quite crucial for every hospital – big or small – to keep a constant flow of oxygen gas and sizable gas cylinders running at full capacity to support the chronically ill.

But the case was different for Dowa District Hospital. For a hospital that serves over 500,000 people, Dowa District Hospital had only two oxygen gas cylinders – one very small and the other with a capacity of 10.5KG – to serve its patients, including those suffering from coronavirus. Patients in need of oxygen support had to wait in line and jostle for those 2 cylinders. Due to the overwhelming demand for oxygen gas, the cylinders needed regular refilling and that is where the other big issue arose. To refill the cylinders, authorities from the hospital had to travel 50 kilometres to Lilongwe where suppliers were based.

“This was costly and time-consuming,” Peter Makoza, Director of Health and Social Services at the hospital explained. Not only was it costly, it also put at great risk the lives of critically ill patients who were on oxygen ventilators.

A case in point was that two oxygen cylinders for a hospital that caters for half a million people, was something unheard of. The immediate solution for the hospital was to procure additional oxygen gas cylinders complete with all the necessary accessories to support a patient hooked to a ventilator. But the hospital’s low funds would not permit them to take that option.

So, the hospital authorities sounded an SOS through the local media, calling well-wishers to come to its aid. That is how we got wind of the story that Dowa District Hospital was in dire need of oxygen supplies. When we heard the shocking news, we made haste more particularly because Dowa is a district that we have been serving for a decade. We have the interest of the communities of this district – refugees and Malawians alike – in our heart. We just had to help.

Besides that, we realize that the fight against COVID-19 is for everyone and – as our Executive Director, Cathreen Ndege-Chirwa put is – we want to complement Malawi Government’s efforts in the fight. Using funds from God’s Economy, we immediately acted and two days later, we successfully bought 10 gas cylinders complete with oxygen gas, 10 humidifiers, regulators and 10 flow metres, valued at approximately USD8,000. Each gas cylinder that we bought for the hospital weighed 10.5KG and was complete with all the required features to operate at maximum efficiency.

When we brought the items to Dowa District Hospital on 11 February 2021, the atmosphere at the hospital was filled with glee. Finally, hope had arrived. The delight was echoed in Peter Makoza’s sentiments.

“Today is the happiest day for Dowa Hospital especially for patients suffering from COVID-19. We are so happy that we now have 10 additional oxygen cylinders and this will really help us to serve more patients than before,” Makoza expressed his joy when we donated the cylinders to the hospital. Makoza said that the donation will play a significant role in the case management of COVID-19 patients. The donation will decrease the risk of death that stood at a higher margin for these patients when the hospital was operating with less than 3 oxygen gas cylinders.