As COVID-19 cases and deaths rose in India in April and May, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi and several others had so little oxygen that many patients in the national capital suffocated.
When Reuters visited the hospital on Friday, the last coronavirus patient was ready to leave after recovery – a remarkable turnaround that health experts attribute to increasing immunity against natural infections and vaccinations.
But hospitals have learned from bitter experiences during the second wave of Covid, when pyres burned non-stop and bodies littered the banks of the Ganges as India braces for another possible increase in infections around the festival season September-November.
Beds have been added in facilities across the country and hospitals are working to ensure adequate oxygenation.
Ganga Ram is increasing its oxygen storage capacity by 50 percent, has laid a 1km pipeline that will carry the gas directly to Covid ICUs and is installing equipment to keep the oxygen flow high.
It has also ordered an on-site oxygen generation plant, which is mostly made in Europe and could take months to arrive given strong global demand.
“In light of the possibility of the emergence of coronavirus mutants, with higher transmissibility and immune escape, the hospital continues to prepare for the worst,” said Satendra Katoch, the hospital’s medical director, in between guiding colleagues who conduct an internal audit. of its facilities.
However, the overcrowded private hospital said it had no room to add more beds. During the peak of the second wave in India, Ganga Ram expanded its capacity by nearly 50 percent to about 600 beds, yet some 500 patients a day had to be placed on a waiting list for admission, according to doctor Varun Prakash, who managed his war room during the crisis.
Nationally, India has added many more hospital beds and imported more than 100 oxygen carriers in recent months to bring the total to about 1,250. Companies like Linde plan to increase the country’s total gas production by 50 percent up to 15,000 tons per day.
Linde told Reuters it had retained 60 of the roughly 80 cryogenic containers — intended to hold super-cooled oxygen — it brought in from the company’s overseas operations, in case demand rose again.
“Distribution infrastructure and logistics fell short during the second wave,” said Moloy Banerjee, head of Linde South Asia.
The central government has meanwhile approved the construction of nearly 1,600 oxygen generating facilities in hospitals less than 300 was set up at the beginning of last month because the import takes time.
High antibody levels
Nearly all states are preparing special children’s wards, as some experts warn that unvaccinated children may be vulnerable to new virus mutations. States including Madhya Pradesh also stock antiviral drugs such as Remdesivir.
But with a government survey estimating that as many as two-thirds of Indians already have Covid-fighting antibodies through natural infection, and 57 percent of adults with at least an initial vaccine dose, many health experts believe a new outbreak of infections could be much less. more devastating than the second wave.
“The number of susceptible individuals will now be less as many individuals are infected or vaccinated,” said epidemiologist and cardiologist K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India.
“Even if reinfections or breakthrough infections do occur, they are likely to be mild and usually treated at home. The serious health care gaps that were evident in the second wave are less likely to be seen.”
Kerala is already seeing such signs. The state currently has the highest number of infections, including many among vaccinated or partially vaccinated residents, but the death rate is well below the national figure.
At 33.1 million, India has the most reported number of Covid cases after the United States, with 441,042 deaths. It has delivered 698.4 million doses of vaccine — at least one dose to 57 percent of the 944 million adults and two doses to 17 percent.
The Ministry of Health, which plans to vaccinate the entire adult population of India this year, has not responded to a request for comment on preparations for a possible third wave.
Epidemiologist and public health specialist Chandrakant Lahariya said the data and trends were encouraging. “With the emerging evidence that for individuals with a previous infection, a single dose can produce much higher levels of antibodies than people who have had no infection or received both vaccinations, this is reassuring for India.”
(Reporting by Krishna N Das; additional reporting by Shivani Singh and Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru)