Civil Society Organizations have urged government to fast track implementation of the National Scale-up Plan for Medical Oxygen to address the current COVID-19 crisis.
This was during a virtual media briefing organised by PATH, in partnership with other Ugandan-based civil society organizations, working together to advocate for access to safe and affordable medical oxygen during this COVID-19 pandemic period and beyond.
The other organizations include Uganda National Health Consumers Organization (UNCHO), Action Group for Health, Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (AGHA), Action for Rural Women’s Empowerment (ARUWE), African Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ), Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development (HEPS), Reach a Hand Uganda (RAHU) and Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER).
The CSOs told press on Friday, that although Uganda has made great strides in increasing access to medical oxygen by increasing the manufacturing capacity through importation of ventilators and the installation of oxygen plants at all Regional Referral Hospitals, the COVID-19 pandemic particularly the second wave has exposed pre-existing health inequities, thereby hampering meaningful enjoyment and realization of the right to health.
The Ugandan government has previously committed to solving the challenges related to availability, access, and quality of oxygen therapy in the country through the enactment of the National Scale-up of Medical Oxygen Implementation Plan 2018-2022.
Speaking on behalf of the CSOs, Labila Sumaya Musoke from ISER noted that much as they acknowledge the ongoing efforts by government to address the oxygen crisis, government needs to fast track the implementation of the National Scale-up Plan for Medical Oxygen (2018-2022) by taking the following actions.
- Increase the production capacity of the existing oxygen plants at the 14 regional referral hospitals: With support coming in to boost oxygen production in the country, such as the UGX 25Bn from the Global Fund, government should enhance the capacity of the regional referral hospitals to properly operate and manage the oxygen plants.
- Increased availability and functionality of the medical oxygen supply and distribution: According to Ministry of Health, there are three main oxygen supply models in Uganda: use of cylinders, concentrators, and oxygen generators/plants. Due to the high demand that came with COVID-19, ventilators were added to the list. The back-up option of the oxygen cylinders is often affected by transportation challenges, limited availability at all levels of health care, and their functionality remains a challenge. Provision of an adequate number of empty oxygen cylinders is another aspect of concern, as sometimes oxygen is available at the plants but there are no cylinders to fill them up for distribution.
- Build the capacity of health workers to detect and manage patients in need of medical oxygen including effective utilization and maintenance of oxygen equipment: The Ministry of Health should prioritize training of health workers in the use of oxygen equipment including pulse oximetry at minimum from HCIV to district and regional referral hospitals through Continuing Medical Education (CME) sessions.
- Improve oxygen equipment management and maintenance: Even when health facilities have oxygen and devices to administer it, they are often mismatched or broken thus preventing oxygen from getting to patients. There is therefore a need for a longer term and sustainable strategy for oxygen access.
- Regulate and monitor private actors providing health care. The state should take its leadership back and effectively regulate and monitor private actors so as to protect the public from extortion and exploitation. The government should fast track expanding access to oxygen therapy from government health facilities as a key protective measure for patients and families.
- Provide sufficient funding for oxygen and ensure transparency and accountability: The government should reallocate at least UGX 25Bn from recently approved votes for MDAs to cover the oxygen gap. It should also ensure transparency and proper accountability for the UGX 25Bn received from the Global Fund and money from other sources being used to bolster oxygen supply during COVID-19.
- Enhance capacities of Village Health Teams as to promote early disease detection and management: Government should consider equipping the VHTs and citizens with basic health information on what it takes for a patient to require critical care, including medical oxygen, to raise their awareness and facilitate timely referrals whenever the need arises.
- Strengthen citizen participation and increase public awareness about critical care that requires medical oxygen to curb misuse: As a health commodity, oxygen must be managed and prescribed by professional and qualified health workers to avoid the harmful effects, if it is purchased by ordinary people and self-administered. Government should therefore invest in creating awareness about medical oxygen toxicity and eventual fatalities, should it be used outside a health care setting and managed by non-medical practitioners.
- Invest in partnerships for research to provide better data and evidence on medical oxygen: The Government should invest in strategic partnerships with other key stakeholders such as academia and research institutions to conduct studies and research needed to generate timely and context-specific evidence on medical oxygen. This will assist in informed decision making, especially during this pandemic period.
To date, Uganda has registered 86,140 COVID-19 cases (only Ugandans), 59,495 Cumulative Ugandan recoveries and 2,062 death cases. A total of 1,058,084 have so far been vaccinated against the virus.