Latin America’s Oxygen Shortage


Photo courtesy of BBC News

Brianna Frezza

As a second wave of Covid-19 strikes Latin America, new information has emerged of frantic family members waiting to purchase oxygen to help infected loved ones battling for breath. WIO News reported many people have been deprived of this vital resource due to the virus. There is a calling for help, and lives are at stake. As the demand for this essential gas takes off, it is getting more difficult for those families to buy the oxygen tanks that are crucial to treat the needs of those who are sick. AP News stated that fears have now arisen as the news of this shortage has spread across Latin America. 

This inadequate supply of oxygen has hit the Brazillian city of Manaus amidst a sharp rise of Covid-19 cases. On a world map produced by PATH to show daily oxygen needs, Brazil is marked with a large dot indicating demand for 327,000 oxygen cylinders. Maria Auxilladora da Cruz was battling Covid-19 before the clinic ran out of oxygen and was progressively doing better. On January 14th, Cruz’s oxygen was above normal levels at 95%. Hours later, she and her family were distressed when they discovered they were not able to acquire any oxygen, and her levels plummeted, according to BBC News.

Since Intubation was not possible and there was no oxygen for the ventilators, the 67 year old retired nurse passed away that night. Her daughter in law, Thalita Rocha, stated to BBC, “It was horrible. It was a catastrophe. Many elderly patients began to deteriorate and turn blue.” The health system of Manaus, Brazil has collapsed two times during the pandemic and has since doubled the amount of deaths between December and January. Brazil has the world’s second highest Covid-19 mortality rate with more than 221,000 fatalities, according to BBC News. Now, there are fears the lack of oxygen could spread further into Latin America and put others at risk.

According to the World Health Organization, some hospitals have seen the demand for oxygen increase between five and seven times above the normal rate, and in severe cases of the virus, it rises to three in five. They also stated that one in five hospitalized Covid-19 patients will require oxygen, and with this substantial shortage, it is difficult to provide all necessary supplies in time without lives being lost in the process. Lisa Smith, from Path’s market dynamics program states, “We need to think about our oxygen as much as we think about electricity, water or other essential utilities.” It is crucial for this matter to be taken as seriously as any other, and with more people dying it brings even more attention to see what needs to be done to save lives.