Thu | Jul 2, 2020

Peru is running out of oxygen for COVID-19 patients

Published:Friday | June 5, 2020 | 12:22 PM
People wearing masks to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus stands in line to refill their empty oxygen cylinders in Callao, Peru, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Long neglected hospitals in Peru and other parts of Latin America are reporting shortages of Oxygen as they confront the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Television. Sewing machine. Motorcycle.

These are the things Edda Marchan’s children sold to keep their mother breathing.

In the far stretch of northern Peru where the family lives, medicinal oxygen to treat the coronavirus has become a scarce commodity.

Eventually, they could not find any.

“It’s the greatest desperation in the world,” said her daughter, 39-year-old Fiorella Sorroza.

“We are praying to God not to abandon us.”

In the South American nation wracked by COVID-19, one of the world’s most abundant elements is now in short supply. Exasperated relatives are racing to fill overpriced tanks.

Long neglected hospitals are running empty.

And President Martín Vizcarra has issued an emergency decree ordering industrial plants to ramp up production or purchase oxygen from other countries.

“Peru, with the Amazon, has the lungs of the planet,” said Iván Hidalgo, academic director of the Institute of Government and Public Management in Peru’s capital of Lima. “And we’re dying because of lack of oxygen.”

Regional health directors say the shortage has already cost lives and is so severe that even by turning industrial plants that typically produce oxygen for mining into medicinal production, Peru will fall short of what it needs.

Defence Minister Walter Martos said Thursday the country needs 173 tons of oxygen per day.

The dean of the Medical College of Peru estimates the nation is producing about 20% of that.

The problem is a consequence of decades of underinvestment in hospitals, corruption and poor management, several medical leaders said.

The hospital in Tumbes, near the border with Ecuador, where Marchan’s family resides, has a plant that has been inoperative for years because someone stole an electronic card needed to operate it. Officials are hoping to get it back up Saturday.

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