Vizag, the most populated city in Andhra Pradesh, is faced with an acute shortage of oxygen beds. As of May 11, it was extremely difficult to find a bed with oxygen support anywhere in the Visakhapatnam district. According to the state government’s dashboard, there were a total of 2,283 oxygen beds and 361 ventilators in the district, of which only 54 oxygen beds (and no ventilators) were available as of May 11 afternoon. The dashboard showed that the 54 oxygen beds were in eight different hospitals. However, most of these hospitals said that the few oxygen beds displayed on the dashboard had been filled up already, and were yet to reflect on the dashboard.
Officials from two of these hospitals said that they did have one or two beds that would soon become available, as the patients were being discharged. However, the beds are only allotted through the government’s 104 helpline, they said. According to the GVMC (Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation) control room, as of 3 pm on May 11, there were zero oxygen beds available in hospitals within GVMC limits, according to information received from the district collectorate.
According to a group of volunteers connecting patients and their caregivers to COVID-19 resources, finding oxygen beds in Vizag has been extremely difficult lately. The family of a 49-year-old COVID-19 patient from Vizianagaram, who had been looking for an oxygen bed since the night of May 10, ended up travelling around 65 km to Vizag and waited outside the KGH (King George Hospital) for nearly four hours before they could be admitted to the triaging centre within the hospital around 6 pm on May 11, a volunteer said.
KGH, one of Vizag’s major government hospitals, has a total of 440 beds with oxygen supply in the CSR block of the hospital dedicated for COVID-19 treatment. All of them were occupied as of May 11 afternoon, said KGH Superintendent Dr Mythili, adding that there are plans to expand capacity and add up to 200 oxygen beds.
According to District COVID Special Officer and Principal of Andhra Medical College Dr PV Sudhakar, there are a total of 3,778 oxygen beds and 2,750 non-oxygen beds in the district as of May 11. “Every day, we are trying to improve oxygen bed capacity. We have many non-oxygen beds, we are trying to tell hospitals to convert them into oxygen beds,” he said.
Sudhakar said that all the major government hospitals in the city, including KGH, VIMS (Visakha Institute of Medical Sciences) and the Government Hospital for Chest and Communicable Diseases (GHCCD), have increased their oxygen-bed capacity. “In government hospitals, we have made sure to convert all beds into oxygen beds. At the KGH CSR block, all 440 beds have been converted. Similarly, in VIMS, all 650 beds have oxygen supply. At Chest Hospital, we have 288 beds, all of them have oxygen supply,” he said.
Officials have been urging private hospitals to also invest in converting regular beds into oxygen beds, either by adding pipelines or with the help of cylinders. “Right now, there is no point in having non-oxygen beds. Being admitted with a non-oxygen bed is as good as staying at home. In government hospitals, we are spending money on this. But private hospitals are hesitant to spend on oxygen storage and other equipment because once the pandemic is over, it may not be of much use. But we are trying to persuade them,” he said.
He added that KGH staff members are in the process of converting a few more wards into COVID-19 wards to increase the capacity of oxygen beds. At other government hospitals too, attempts are being made to add around 150 oxygen beds, he said.
As of May 11 morning, Visakhapatnam district has a total of 19,958 active COVID-19 cases, as per the state health department’s bulletin. However, hospitals in Vizag cater not only to patients within Visakhapatnam district, but also people coming in from neighbouring districts like Vizianagaram, Srikakulam and East Godavari, as well as from the neighbouring state of Odisha, and occasionally from Chhattisgarh.