Countrywide oxygen generators: 99 promised, none completed
None of the 99 oxygen generators the government planned for health facilities across the country at different times last year has been set up yet.
In April 2021, the minister had said, "We will import machinery… to set up small oxygen plants at different hospitals."
This was a time when hospitals were struggling to meet the demand for oxygen support amid rising numbers of Covid patients, and India, which is a major source of medical oxygen for Bangladesh, banned the export.
By July, the daily demand for medical oxygen in Bangladesh reached around 400 tonnes a day, up from the usual 110-120 tonnes.
The government later planned to procure 99 oxygen generators in phases: 40 with its own funds, 30 with the Asian Development Bank's Covid-19 response assistance funds and 29 from the UN.
But setting up of the generators has not been complete anywhere, said Farid Hossain Mian, director (hospitals) at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
The number of Covid cases remained low for a while and has risen again, but the generators have yet to be operational at any of the hospitals.
An oxygen generator can produce up to 500 litres of oxygen per minute. It can provide uninterrupted supply to at least 50 Covid-19 patients needing 10 litres. Compared to liquid oxygen supplied in tanks, the generators are much more efficient.
While the generators to be procured with the ADB and UN funds still exist only on paper, health officials make conflicting claims about the current status of the 40 generators that the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved through a direct purchase method in May last year.
Only last month, officials made a list of 99 hospitals where generators can be set up. All the public medical colleges, district town hospitals and several upazila hospitals will get a generator, said Farid.
On January 3 this year, Director General Prof Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam of the DGHS, said, "We distributed 40 generators to different medical college hospitals and district hospitals… some of those have already been set up."
But two DGHS officials familiar with the matter said none of the generators has been set up and ready to use.
Farid said, "A few hospitals have received the necessary equipment and several other facilities will receive them soon. Some machinery is being imported."
Nazmul Islam, director of communicable disease control at the DGHS, said, "Before choosing a hospital, we have to check whether the facility has room for the equipment. Then a specification [for public purchase] has to be prepared. As far as I know, the CMSD has completed the tender process and has issued a work order [to the contractor]."
Prof Nazrul Islam, member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, said the delay is caused by inefficiency.
In March last year, the health ministry accepted a proposal to receive 29 oxygen generators procured by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).
But the minister has yet to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the UNOPS, a prerequisite for the UN body to launch the procedure.
A health ministry official, preferring anonymity, said signing of the MoU was delayed because officials were still working on a list of the facilities that would get the generators.
"Multiple government offices are involved in the process. Coordination has been the main challenge," the official added.
In August, the Cabinet Committee approved a proposal to procure 30 oxygen generators with ADB funds.
On August 23, the CMSD published the technical specifications of the generators on its website. Officials said orders have been placed for the generators.
But the CMSD officials refused to give information about the contractors, the costs, and the manufacturers of the equipment.