By Francis Kagolo, Violet Nabatanzi & Henry Ssekanjako
KAMPALA - The ministry of health has calmed fears that Mulago national referral hospital has run out of oxygen for supporting the life of critically-ill patients.
It has emerged that the hospital’s oxygen plant generates about 1,000 liters of oxygen per minute on a daily basis and has never failed since its installation in 2012.
Health minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda has said that the state-of-the-art plant is fitted with a backup system with buffer tanks that can store oxygen for 72 hours and can fill up to 240 cylinders.
The plant also has a manual system that pumps 20 cylinders at a go to the wards in case of power interruptions as well as filling six cylinders per hour that are then distributed to the wards as backup.
The minister was on Wednesday responding to reports by a section of media and MPs that about six patients had died in Mulago hospital over the weekend due to lack of oxygen.
“It is not true that six patients died. The deceased are four whose cause of death was not linked to lack of oxygen,” he clarified.
Rugunda identified the deceased as Kizza, a male youth who was admitted with advanced HIV/AIDS with CD4 cell count of 20 and a number of other opportunistic infections including TB and pneumonia.
On examination, Kizza’s lungs were found almost non-functional, according to the minister.
The other three who died include Awor, Zaitun Nakawuki and Walusimbi whose death was also triggered by various severe infections, but not the absence of oxygen, said Rugunda.
He defended the hospital for making two patients to share an oxygen cylinder, saying it was neither unusual nor abnormal.
“The cylinder is fitted in the middle of the beds with a gauge measuring how much oxygen is being delivered to each patient, and each patient is monitored by a pulse oxymeter,” he explained.
“This saves space and is cost-effective and does not compromise oxygen supply to any patient. Filled cylinders are always on standby to replace the one being used in case it runs out.”
On top of a technical staff attached to the plant 24 hours a day to ensure full functionality, Rugunda said the hospital has a 10-year maintenance contract with the firm that supplied the oxygen plant.
“Mulago hospital has enough piped oxygen and at any one time oxygen cylinders are available for use,” he said.
The in-charge of the oxygen plant, Peter Kiggundu, said the hospital used to import oxygen from Kenya but it has never run out the lifesaving gas since it set up its own plant.
The health facility’s spokesperson Enock Kusasira said one of the four patients who died was referred from Luwero where a cobra had bitten him on the head.
He said the patient had not received any medicine and when he reached Mulago, the toxins had spread to the whole body, affecting the lungs and the heart.
He died a few hours after receiving anti-snake venom and put on oxygen.