As the winter months advance, hospitals across Russia are starting to see a huge uptake in Covid-stricken patients requiring medical oxygen to boost lung function, resulting in several regions facing significant oxygen shortages, according to The Moscow Times.

Industrial gas companies, such as Cryogenmash – one of the three largest producers of medical oxygen in Russia – have scaled up their liquid oxygen (LOX) production to cope with the increased demand. 

Stating that the ‘situation is very tense’, Dmitriy Kuznetsov, General Manager, Cryogenmash, told The Moscow Times that the company now produces 300 of the 2,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen used each day in Russian hospitals.

The ongoing need for oxygen has been amplified after the country reported on Saturday (20th Nov) its highest number of daily deaths from Covid-19 at 1,254. Cases have risen to 9.3m, with the number of those recovered from the virus sitting at around 8m. 

According to ‘Analysis of Risk Factors in Covid-19 Adult Mortality in Russia’, SAGE Journals, the median age of death caused by Covid-19 in Russia is around 74.5 years, disproportionately affecting those with comorbidities such as hypertension and obesity, further necessitating a continuous supply of medical oxygen. 

Industrial gas giant Linde is one of the country’s major producers of oxygen and, despite not coming across oxygen shortages amongst its Russian clients, has said that the firm is working at full capacity. 

With the majority of the country’s oxygen supply being produced for the iron and steel sector, earlier this year First Deputy Minister of Industry Vasily Osmakov ordered heavy industry to reduce its consumption of oxygen to alleviate the pressure on the shortage of medical oxygen for hospitals.

Russia’s Defense Ministry also reported that it had sent a total of 347 tonnes of medical oxygen to 27 regions across the country.

The oxygen shortages come after well-publicised crises occuring in India, which saw Air Liquide help to deliver 200 tonnes of liquid oxygen from abroad.

The republic of Chuvashia, 600km east of Moscow, has already declared a state of ‘high alert’ in hospitals, and the isolated northern republic of Komi has had ‘huge problems with oxygen deficiency’. 

Additional shortages have been reported in the Ural city of Perm, the Siberian Altai region, and the North Ossetia republic. 

Due to the presence of large-scale oxygen suppliers Linde and Air Liquide – which has increased its medical oxygen output by 600% since the start of the pandemic, Moscow and St. Petersburg have not yet reported any shortages. 

It has been suggested by Russia’s Industry and Trade Ministry that infrastructural and logistical issues are major contributing factors to smaller hospitals across the country running short of oxygen.

 

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Analysis by Rob Cockerill, Global Managing Editor

This further underlines the fragilities in the medical oxygen supply chain in certain regions, in the context of a resurgent Covid-19 pandemic this winter.

Widespread reports coming out of the country suggest Russia is just the latest to be overwhelmed by a rampant virus that knows no bounds. According to a tweet from Just Actions, Russia reporting more than 8,600 weekly Covid deaths makes it the largest among the many low and middle-income countries (LMICs) afflicted.

As I write this, I myself am now one of the many to have contracted Covid for the first time since this all began. I’m showing few symptoms as yet, thankfully. I’m tired and aching all over; I have a few sniffles; and the lethargy kicks in after short intervals of working or moving around the house.

The worst element so far is the isolation and the thoughts that race through your mind as you retire to sleep in the evenings: will I get worse? Will I go on a steep course of deterioration? What happens if that does occur? It’s the knowledge that this virus is now in your system, it’s official, and there’s very little you can do about that. You have to close your eyes and not let those thoughts take over you.

Yet I am so far very lucky. I have not been severely ill with this dreaded virus. Think of those that are not so fortunate. Imagine being hospitalised, desperate for the one treatment known to help recovery (oxygen) and wondering where those invaluable supplies are…

Imagine knowing you’re one of so many on the end of a decision by the healthcare professionals devoted to saving you, but torn by who to give their limited oxygen supplies to first…

It’s little wonder that oxygen is being described as ‘the new gold’ during these difficult times, such is the surge in demand across so many regions. The industry is working hard to meet that demand, but it’s very much a logistical challenge once more. In most cases the oxygen is there, or the technology to generate it is there, but it’s getting it to those demand hubs and hospitals.

As it happens, I’ve just finished an interview with major logistics specialist the HOYER Group, to be published in our December 2021 edition of gasworld magazine. In it, our interviewee describes how, at the time of our discussion, the company’s gases division is organising LOX (liquid oxygen) transports in the regions of Russia and Southeast Europe, where the Covid situation is so severe. “In fact, I’ve just been checking out where the tanks are currently located in order to give an update to our customers,” she says.

Someone will clearly be on the end of those updates, desperate for those critical oxygen supplies to arrive. Companies like the HOYER Group, like other equipment specialists, like gas producers and of course like Air Liquide and Linde – so far the only two signatories to the groundbreaking oxygen agreements announced in the summer – are all working around the clock to plug the gaps in our oxygen networks. And yet, it’s evidently still not enough. There remain issues to address in this supply chain; lessons still to be learned.

This is why we produced a report into the Covid-19 oxygen crisis at gasworld this year. Having spent hundreds of hours researching this subject, better understanding it and writing that report, I am keenly aware of the challenges this supply chain faces. When you contract Covid yourself for the first time, and we see such devastating stories such as those in Russia and other LMICs, that becomes an even more visceral reminder.