By Tracy Cabrera
MANILA — With a looming shortage in oxygen tank supplies, the Department of Health (DoH) has asked suppliers to regulate the sale of oxygen tanks to ensure sufficient supply in hospitals.
Hospitals in Manila have reached critical capacity from the continuing surge of new Covid-19 infections and Filipinos—growing increasingly desperate with the situation–are stocking piling on oxygen tanks and touting unapproved medications amid fears the health care system would collapse.
Daily infections in the country rose to a record last week, showing one in nearly five Covid-19 tests come back positive and vaccination rates lagging behind neighboring countries in Asia.
“(We are) at risk of a ‘humanitarian crisis that will overwhelm the country and wipe out families’ unless the government steps up testing, (contact) tracing, and treatment efforts,” opposition senator Francis Pangilinan had earlier pointed out.
Citing current Covid response statistics from the World Bank database, the Philippines is behind its neighbors in vaccinations, having administered 0.2 doses per 100 people as of mid-March, compared to Indonesia’s 2.4 doses and Malaysia’s 1.1 doses.
Reacting to reports of a shortage in oxygen tanks, health undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire noted that some individuals are buying oxygen tanks for their household.
“We encourage at nakikiusap kami sa ating mga suppliers na sana rin itong pagbebenta natin at pagpapahiram nitong oxygen tanks natin ay ma-regulate natin na talagang ang kumukuha sa inyo ay hospital facilities lang muna natin,” Vergeire appealed to the public.
“Baka iyong supply ng ospital madi-deplete kasi lahat na ng ating households ay bumibili ng oxygen tanks,” she revealed.
Vergeire likewise encouraged people experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 to seek assistance from their respective physicians or local government units if they would need an oxygen tank even as she stressed that physicians (are the ones) who can decide when a patient needs to acquire such medical equipment.
“Sa ating mga kababayan, you can always call your local government, your doctor. If they advised na kailangan ng oxygen, that’s the time that you get oxygen,” she said.
The health official also warned that the use of an oxygen tank needs proper guidance as it may cause harm to one’s health.
“Mayroon po tayong appropriate na level ng oxygen na dapat ibigay sa inyo based on the condition of the patient,” she explained.
“For example, you are not sick and you do not have any respiratory difficulty in breathing and all, baka makasama pa ito sa inyo kaysa makakabuti kasi too much oxygen that we take when we are at that normal or stable condition might also affect our breathing process,” she added.
Meanwhile, coinciding with the looming shortage of oxygen tank supplies, a survey conducted on prices for the much-needed medical equipment has shown a slight increase as more and more families are buying in several medical supply stores in Bambang, Manila.
Stores here claim that their supplies are now dwindling at a critical level because of the continuous stocking of some families in their homes, especially now that most private and government hospitals are in full capacity and most patients are also in self-isolation in their homes.
“Ang Bambang ay sikat na bilihan ng mga medical supplies at equipment. Matatandaan na noong isang taon sa kasagsagan ng pagsipa ng pangangailangan ng alcohol at mask, ang Bambang din ang naging takbuhan ng publiko,” Mang Ernesto Estadilla from Maypajo in Caloocan City enthused.
In a radio report, one supplier of medical supplies declared that the shortage in oxygen tanks had already been felt since Holy Week when many stores failed to address the increasing demand.
Responding to the situation, Vergeire cautioned the public to refrain from ‘hoarding’ oxygen tanks because this could result in bigger problems because these equipment need appropriate guidance from physicians.
“Posibleng iniisip diumano ng publiko na simple lang ang paggamit ng tangke, (pero) maaring mas makasama kaysa makabuti ang paggamit ng oxygen tank kung hindi alam ang tamang paggamit nito,” she concluded. (AI/MTVN)