In Rudaw

State-run Baghdad oxygen plant overwhelmed by demand amid COVID-19 pandemic

The relentless rise in coronavirus cases has left Baghdad with severe shortages in affordable medical grade oxygen, putting further pressure on the Iraqi capital’s straining hospitals.

COVID-19 can cause extreme respiratory distress, among other symptoms. People with severe cases of the virus struggle to breathe, dependent on ventilators.  Iraq has so far seen more than 107,000 cases of the virus, including almost 4,300 deaths. Baghdad is the current national center of the pandemic.

The Baghdad Medical Oxygen Plant is the only government-run oxygen factory in the Iraqi capital that fills tanks for at-home use. The plant is under overwhelming pressure as locals arrive in their droves to cheaply refill oxygen tanks for the treatment of their infected loved ones.

Mohanad Ahmed travels some 30 kilometers to the plant from Abu Ghraib every day to refill the two oxygen tanks his self-quarantined father needs for treatment at home. His family decided it would be best for Ahmed’s father to avoid the city’s currently overwhelmed hospitals.

“I take them to my father at home. We refill the tanks at this factory for 5,000 dinars,” Ahmed told Rudaw.

In the few years following its 1981 establishment, the plant was capable of producing 5,000 liters of oxygen a day. But the plant has grown increasingly rundown in the decades since, and is now only capable of producing 2,000 liters of oxygen a day.

In addition to supplying Baghdad’s hospitals, the plant refills nearly 500 tanks of 10-liter capacity a day for locals. Ten-liter tanks, which can be used for six to eight hours, cost ten times the price to refill at private oxygen plants than they do at the state-run plant, Ahmed said.

“The thing is, we are the only plant in Baghdad which refills tanks brought in by locals,” plant director Ghazwan Kamal Jamil told Rudaw. “But production capacity has halved from its former level because we’re having many technical problems in the factory.”

“Many parts of the plant are redundant,” he said, adding that they need to be reconstructed to boost oxygen production capacity.

Staff at hospitals treating coronavirus patients have also expressed worry about the lack of available medical grade oxygen.

“Oxygen is very important and effective…. We hope at least the problem of the lack of oxygen in the country will be resolved,” said Dr. Salim Mazhar, head of the al-Kindi Teaching Hospital in Baghdad. “Because the most important element we use for the treatment of the patients is oxygen.”

Mazhar’s hospital is currently treating over 2,000 coronavirus patients, with 90 percent of them needing oxygen for their treatment. The hospital requires 10,000 liters of oxygen on a daily basis, Mazhar said, but the government is only capable of providing half of this amount. Source