The opening of two oxygen plants has brought some relief to the severe shortage of medical oxygen currently plaguing hospitals and medical centres, particularly in light of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

One of the two recently opened plants is located in Ambo under the Ambo University Referral Hospital.

Gonfa Moti (MD), chief executive director of the Hospital, told Fortunethat out of the two plants they plan to construct, one has been completed and started operation. TNT Construction is in charge of building the two plants with a budget of 25.8 million Br. The construction of the first plant took just over a month to complete and the second is scheduled to be finalised in the coming weeks.

"Even though the first plan was to start operations with both the plants, we've started running with the one that is already completed since there is a dire shortage of oxygen," said Gonfa. The plant's machinery was imported by GAST Solar Mechanics Plc, which also has assigned quality control professionals to the plant, and there are currently a total of 13 people that work there. The oxygen canisters are available at prices ranging from 3,000 Br to 3,500 Br.

The normal price for oxygen at other plants is set at around five Br a litre but since the board has not yet set the price, the new plant only supplies Ambo Referral Hospital for now.

"We are currently operating for limited hours and generate 80 cubic metres of oxygen a day with just one plant," Gonfa told Fortune. He also disclosed that once the price is assigned, the plant plans to distribute to Addis Abeba, western Shewa, Wollega, and beyond.

The other oxygen plant that recently started operations is Aurora Chemicals, which started production two weeks ago. The plant is situated near the Pasteur area in Addis Abeba's Gulele District and has the capacity of generating 80 cubic metres of oxygen an hour.

Owner and General Manager of Aurora Chemicals, Dawit Debebe, stated that the planning for an oxygen plant started three years ago in recognition of the long-standing problems in oxygen supply that were around long before COVID-19. As it turned out, the pandemic brought with it an immense need for oxygen while Aurora happened to be in the process of establishing the plant.

Due to the current high demand for oxygen, the Ministry of Health helped Aurora accelerate the licensing process and the plant is already supplying Eka Kotebe General Hospital, which is currently a COVID-19 isolation and treatment centre, and other private hospitals in Addis Abeba. Aurora Chemicals received a license for the production of oxygen from the Ethiopian Food and Drug Administration (EFDA) two weeks ago.

"We've also benefited from the tax exemption for investors when importing machinery and equipment," said Dawit.

The company employs 30 people and operates 24 hours a day.

Following a production disruption at Chora Gas Factory, the capital's main supplier of medical oxygen, over a month ago, hospitals and health centres have been faced with a severe shortage. The timing was particularly bad as it coincided with a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, a large number of which are severe and necessitate the use of medical oxygen. The number of severe cases in the country has been hovering around 1,000 for the past two months.

In light of this, the Ministry of Health has been supporting plants in licensing processes and providing access to financial and technical assistance when needed. Other than that, they have been linking hospitals with oxygen suppliers. Chora is still under repair and not currently producing at its Addis Abeba plant but still operates its factory in Bahir Dar.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 30,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1096]

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