Considered one of the main epicentres of the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years, Latin America saw oxygen supply crises occur across multiple countries, including Peru, Brazil, and Colombia.

Due to increased oxygen demand, Colombia’s industrial gas sector was described by authorities as being under tremendous pressure, with supply chains balanced on a knife edge.

Often dubbed ‘the voice of bad news’ in the country during the pandemic, Ingrid Reyes, Executive Director at the Chamber of Industrial and Medical Gases, National Business Association of Colombia, elaborated upon the challenges faced with medical gases in Latin America. 

Gas companies have been operating in Colombia for more than 90 years, serving industrial customers and also health institutions, hospitals and patients at home. 

Medical gases in Colombia are considered medicines by the Colombian health agency and have to meet specific drug registration laws. 

Challenges during pandemic 

During the third Covid-19 peak, Colombia saw oxygen consumption go between 7-10 times higher than usual. 

“Once treatment was over, patients who were cared for at home did not return empty oxygen cylinders and oxygen concentrators for fear of requiring them again for another family member or friend,” explained Reyes. 

Supply chains in the country broke down, causing the distribution of oxygen throughout the country to come to a standstill. 

“The third challenge was that we have difficulties in accessing the importation of liquid oxygen and equipment for respiratory care due to the great world demand.” 

Industrial gas companies sought to prioritise the delivery of medical oxygen over other gases. 

Colombia’s industrial gas companies are still working at full capacity 24/7 to help deal with the pandemic, supplying oxygen to the country, in addition to related equipment for post-Covid chronic patient care. 

Commenting on the work being undertaken by the chamber, Reyes said, “The Chamber worked on campaigns with recommendations for the safe handling of medical gas cylinders, as well as the technical validation of gas systems in hospitals.” 

Gas companies were also offering intervention strategies to assess the risks associated with the manul loading an unloading of cylinders for workers. 

“For those of us who work in the industry, the essential nature of medical oxygen and other medical gases in health systems is well known, but for those who are in the industry, it tends to go unnoticed,” said Reyes. 

The company also strengthened its telemedicine programmes, reducing travel expenses and optimising resources. 

“It is not just selling gases, we fave an added value in the service,” she added. “We are sure that we saved lives and, with all this work, we want to continue to saving lives in Colombia.”