Sat | Oct 23, 2021

Asthma patients question oxygen shortage

Authorities should have been better prepared

Published:Wednesday | September 1, 2021 | 12:06 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer


While Jamaica’s hospitals got their oxygen supplies replenished on Monday following a near-critical shortage of the precious commodity last weekend, persons with respiratory illnesses are questioning why the authorities were not better prepared to combat the shortage.

Candice Ming, a lifelong asthma patient, told The Gleaner on Monday that she does not believe the authorities had ever prioritised respiratory patients, otherwise ample preparation would have been made to counteract the oxygen shortage at the nation’s hospitals.

“It is not like people with respiratory illnesses were not always here, it is just that hospitals never prioritised them. Can it really be a shortage [of oxygen] when they were not preparing for it in the first place? If there was any regard given for people with respiratory illnesses, they would have had adequate oxygen in the hospital,” said Ming.

“You must anticipate that a certain number of your population is going to be infected with COVID-19, and you must anticipate that there is going to be a number of your population that is going to need oxygen, so order it ahead of time, and do not wait until a shortage happens to order it,” added Ming.

Ming’s views mirror that of a Montego Bay photo journalist, who said she was contemplating leaving Jamaica to go overseas due to her fear arising from the oxygen shortage.


“I was born with asthma, and all my life I used to live on nebulisers at the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH), so I know what it feels like not to be able to get that extra puff that you need. I was fearful about the shortage because I know how critical oxygen is to one’s surviving COVID-19, and at one time I said maybe I need to move from Jamaica to a country that has better healthcare, because we are not supposed to run out of oxygen just so,” she said.

Prior to Monday’s oxygen distribution, several hospitals across the island were reporting that they were either very low on oxygen or were completely out of the gas. In some instances, healthcare workers have had to decide which patients to administer oxygen and who to ignore.

Within the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA), the CRH got 94 cylinders of oxygen on Monday, and 57 cylinders were directed to the Trelawny-based Falmouth Hospital, while the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital in Westmoreland got 65 cylinders on Sunday night. It could not be ascertained how many cylinders were sent to the Noel Holmes Hospital in Lucea, Hanover, but it is understood that the hospital placed an order for 90 cylinders, including portable ones.

Eric Clarke, chairman of the WRHA, said that while the hospitals under the region’s umbrella have gotten oxygen supply for up to the next three days, a management system is to be put in place to help keep a close watch on the supply.

“We got a two-day to three-day supply at the least, and we have learned a lot about oxygen management and making sure we know exactly what we have. We are putting in an oxygen-management procedure, so we are monitoring everything very closely,” said Clarke.