The majority of Ukrainian hospitals could run out of life-saving medical oxygen as soon as today, putting at risk the lives of thousands of critically ill patients amid the pandemic, the World Health Organization warned Sunday.
The United Nations agency said it is looking into ways to increase supplies, which would likely require a safe-transit corridor through Poland. “It is imperative to ensure that lifesaving medical supplies—including oxygen—reach those who need them,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr. Hans Kluge said in a joint statement.
Amid the Russian attack and invasion, trucks are currently unable to transport oxygen supplies from producers to hospitals across Ukraine, including the capital of Kyiv, the WHO reported. The onslaught is also hampering the production of medical oxygen in the country. Several medical oxygen generator manufacturers are running low on zeolite, a critical production component that is imported. Safe transport of zeolite into Ukraine is also needed. Drs. Tedros and Kluge also warned that patients are at risk because hospitals are facing power shortages, and ambulances transporting patients are at risk of being caught in crossfire.
“The oxygen supply situation is nearing a very dangerous point in Ukraine,” Drs. Tedros and Kluge wrote Sunday. “The majority of hospitals could exhaust their oxygen reserves within the next 24 hours. Some have already run out. This puts thousands of lives at risk.”
Medical oxygen is critical for a variety of patients, including those with severe COVID-19. There are approximately 1,700 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Ukraine currently, the WHO reports. The country is currently experiencing a COVID-19 surge, driven by the ultra-transmissible omicron coronavirus variant. Active cases jumped 555 percent from January 15 to February 25, according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. That is likely a significant undercount given testing shortages. In addition, oxygen is critical for patients ranging from newborns to the elderly due to a variety of circumstances, like chronic conditions, sepsis, injuries, and trauma.
The WHO noted that it has been working with Ukraine to improve its health system in recent years, including a rapid scale-up of oxygen therapy capacity for severely ill COVID-19 patients during the pandemic. “This progress is now at risk of being derailed during the current crisis,” Drs. Tedros and Kluge said.