Govt to use PM-Cares Fund to set up medical oxygen plants at 100 hospitals

The central Empowered Group-2 on Covid-19 has directed the Union health ministry to identify 100 hospitals in far-flung locations where oxygen manufacturing plants could be installed to make them self-sufficient.

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The Empowered Group 2 has directed the Union health ministry to identify 100 hospitals in far-flung locations for consideration of installation of Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) plants that manufacture oxygen. (Photo: Reuters)

With hundreds of Covid-19 patients gasping for breath due to shortage of medical oxygen at hospitals across states, the central government on Thursday formulated a plan under which the PM-Cares Fund would be used to set up medical oxygen manufacturing units at 100 hospitals so that they become self-reliant.

Medical oxygen is a critical component in the treatment of Covid-19 patients.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the central 'Empowered Group-2' on Covid-19. During the meeting, the group took three key decisions to create short and long-term availability of medical oxygen in the country.

These were:

  • Mapping of 12 high burden states to oxygen sources
  • 100 new hospitals to have their own oxygen plant under PM-Cares Fund
  • 50,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen to be imported.

The central Empowered Group-2 was constituted in March last year to ensure availability of medical equipment, including medical oxygen to states affected by the pandemic.

Mapping of oxygen sources for 12 high burden states

Ever since the second wave of Covid-19 began, demand for medical oxygen has increased from 12 states with high burden of active Covid-19 cases. These are Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

Speaking about the issue, a senior Union health ministry official told India Today TV that there is actually no shortage of medical oxygen in the country at present. "The crisis is lack of its availability at locations where it is needed the most."

"There is sufficient production capacity of around 7,127 metric tonnes of medical oxygen per day in the country. As per need, the surplus oxygen available with steel plants is also being utilised to cater to the emergency created by the second Coivd-19 wave. For the past two days, India has been using its 100 per cent production capacity," the health ministry official said.

Data provided by the Centre states that on April 12, India's consumption of medical oxygen was 3,842 metric tonnes. This is 54 per cent of the country's daily production capacity.

Consumption of medical oxygen is mostly higher in states with high Covid-19 cases like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, and Rajasthan.

"While the demand in Maharashtra is expected to be beyond available production capacity of the state, states like Madhya Pradesh do not have any production capacity to meet their demand for medical oxygen. Besides, there is a trend of increasing demand in other oxygen producing states such as Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, etc.," the Union health ministry said in a statement.

Such demand-supply imbalance has hit the medical infrastructure and worsened the Covid-19 situation.

On Thursday, the central government said that in order to give clarity and assurance to states on oxygen that would be supplied over the next few weeks, a mapping exercise was undertaken.

"Sources of medical oxygen and their production capacity was mapped to match the requirement of states and an indicative framework has been developed to guide the states on the sources of medical oxygen," the government said.

Accordingly, 4,880 metric tonnes, 5,619 metric tonnes and 6,593 metric tonnes have been indicated to the 12 high-burden states for meeting their projected demand as on April 20, April 25 and April 30, respectively.

To ensure this, the Centre has roped in key stakeholders including representatives from oxygen manufacturers like All India Industrial Gas Manufacturers Association (AIIGMA).

Oxygen plants at 100 hospitals

The empowered group also directed the health ministry to identify another 100 hospitals in far-flung locations for consideration of sanction for installation of Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) plants. PSA plants manufacture oxygen and help hospitals become self-sufficient in their requirement for medical oxygen while also reducing the burden on the national grid for its supply.

Apart from this, 162 PSA plants sanctioned under PM-Cares Funds are being closely reviewed for early completion to enhance self-generation of oxygen in hospitals especially in remote areas, the statement said.

Import 50,000 MT medical oxygen

The third decision taken by the empowered group on Thursday was to import 50,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen in view of the increasing domestic demand.

"The health ministry has been directed to finalise the tender for the same and also explore possible sources for import identified by the missions of the Ministry of External Affairs," the statement said.

Exploring other options

The Empowered Group 2 swung into action to ensure that there is no panic over shortage of medical oxygen. Apart from measures to enhance production capacity, the government has also decided a detailed blueprint to utilise the surplus stocks of oxygen available with steel plants.

The stock availability from steel plants has increased in last few days, with 14,000 metric tonnes coming from stocks of the CPSUs steel plants alone.

Besides, to speed up availability of medical oxygen, the government has set a sub- group under the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways with Ministry of Railways and transport departments of states to facilitate movement of transport tankers for Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO).

Moving of oxygen tankers by rail is also being actively worked out, sources said.

Orders have been given by Petroleum and Safety Organisation for conversion of argon and nitrogen tankers for use as oxygen tankers.

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