No crisis of oxygen in Bangladesh: Health minister

Health minister Zahid Maleque talks to media during a press briefing on the premises of Bangladesh College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dhaka on 27 April 2021Prothom Alo

Health Minister Zahid Maleque on Tuesday said there is nothing to be worried over the sudden halt in oxygen import from India since the country has the capacity to meet the current demand of it from the internal sources, reports UNB.

“Coronavirus has devastated India for lack of oxygen. We’re now not getting oxygen from India. But there’s nothing to be worried about. We don’t import oxygen from India round the year. When Covid-19 reached its peak, we imported 40-50 tonnes of oxygen,” he said.

Speaking at a press briefing on the premises of Bangladesh College of Physicians and Surgeons (BCPS), the minister said, “Oxygen has not been coming from India for four-five days, but we’re managing everything and we’ve no crisis of oxygen.”

He said hospitals not only use liquid oxygen, but also gas oxygen. “There’s no dearth of gas oxygen in Bangladesh due to the huge production capability of it.”

Before installing the oxygen lines at the hospitals, Maleque said gas oxygen were mostly being used in the country’s hospitals. “We’ve planned to buy the liquid oxygen from local producers and provide it to our hospitals. Our 40-50 hospitals have the facilities to use the gas oxygen and we’ve asked them to use gas oxygen.”

He said so far Bangladesh is in a fairly good position in terms of Oxygen supply and production.

The minister said they have also booked 40 tonnes of oxygen in the industrial sector for the use of patients in case of emergency.

He said there is no crisis of oxygen in the country’s hospitals to deal with the Covid patients. “If the number of Covid patients rises three times and reaches 21,000 from the current 7,000 then we won’t be able to meet the demand for oxygen. So, we must take steps to reduce the Covid infections.”

Beximco and Incepta pharmaceuticals have shown interest in manufacturing Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine of Russia in Bangladesh and the government has taken necessary steps in this regard

Maleque said the DGHS has already contacted industries that use liquid oxygen to collect it from them during the crisis. “We’re planning to import small oxygen plants.”

He said the government has set up central oxygen lines in 100 hospitals so that the Covid patients can have it whenever necessary. “We’re installing the oxen plants in some other hospitals and it’ll be completed by 10-15 days.”

The minister said there was no high-flow nasal cannula and oxygen concentrator in the country when the coronavirus first hit it, but now around 3,000 such equipment are being used in Bangladesh to provide treatment to the Covid patients.

He said coronavirus cannot be controlled by giving treatment to the affected patients. “We’ve now 7,000 beds. If the number of patients increases to 21,000, we won’t be able to accommodate them. We should keep it in mind.”

Maleque said all must maintain the health safety rules, social distancing and wear masks to contain the virus transmission.

He said the coronavirus infection came under control early this year, but the second wave of the virus has created due to people’s reckless attitude, travelling spree, mass gathering, and apathy to the health safety rules. If we don’t take a lesson from such mistakes, the third wave may come.”

The health minister said 70 to 80 per cent of infections and deaths have been reported in Dhaka, Chattogram, Rajshahi, Sylhet and Khulna City Corporation areas. “So, people in these areas need to remain aware and strictly follow the health safety rules.”

The minister further said the uncertainty over receiving coronavirus vaccine jabs from the Serum Institute of India is likely to be over soon.

“We placed an order for 30 million (three crore) doses of vaccine (from Serum Institute) and paid money. But it’s a matter of regret that we’re not getting the vaccine in due time, disrupting our vaccination activities. The local agent, Beximco, and we’re trying our best to have it,” he said.

“Our government is also trying to bring the vaccine jabs and the PMO and the foreign ministry have been working on it. Our prime minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly requested the Indian prime minister to ensure the vaccine supply. So, we hope we may get the vaccine quickly, but we couldn’t know the exact time. We’ll be able to know about it within a few days,” the minister said.

He made the remarks while talking to reporters on the premises of Bangladesh College of Physicians and Surgeons (BCPS).

Maleque said the government is also trying to collect vaccines from China, Russia and the USA. “There’s a progress in this regard, and we think we’ll be able to procure vaccines from there.”

He said China has already made a commitment to provide Bangladesh with 500,000 vaccine doses and the government is now waiting to receive it.

The minister said there is a crisis of the vaccine all over the world due to less production compared to its demand while the rich countries bought 70 per cent of the jabs.

He said the government has sent letters to Beximco and Serum to have the vaccine as per the agreement. “Our prime minister urged her Indian counterpart during his visit to Bangladesh to give the vaccine in due time and he assured her of doing so.”

He said the Bangladesh foreign ministry has regular contact with the Indian foreign ministry over the matter, but there is an embargo by the government of that country on the vaccine export. “All countries will get the vaccine when the embargo will be lifted.”

He said they have heard that India is facing a crisis of raw materials that are used for making the vaccine. “India imports the raw materials from the US. The US has also kept the export of raw materials suspended. So, there is international business politics over the vaccine.”

The ministers said the government has given the Drug Administration (DGDA) a green signal to approve the vaccines that have been accepted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the international regulators.

He further said a process is underway to approve the vaccines of China and Russia. “But our activities regarding the collection of the vaccines from these countries have not remained halted for the approval. We’ve made a good progress in this regard.”

The minister said they have signed a non-disclosure agreement with Russia and sent a letter to China over the vaccine.

He said Beximco and Incepta pharmaceuticals have shown interest in manufacturing Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine of Russia in Bangladesh and the government has taken necessary steps in this regard.

He said Russia will take a decision on it after examining the technical and financial capability of the companies. “It now depends on Russia.”