Africa Defense Forum
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Oxygen Concentrators Bring Sighs of Relief in Lesotho

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A few weeks after Lesotho received its first COVID-19 vaccine shots, the United States government donated oxygen concentrators to health care facilities across the mountainous kingdom.

During a sun-drenched ceremony at Berea Government Hospital in Teyateyaneng, Dr. Lucy Mapota-Masoabi, director of clinical services at the national Ministry of Health, received four machines, part of a total U.S. donation of 36 oxygen concentrators to 19 medical facilities.

“This donation comes at the right time,” Mapota-Masoabi said. “We lost patients due to a lack of equipment. This equipment is vitally needed for our response. This is not only helpful for COVID but for our general health system.”

Oxygen concentrators help patients with low blood oxygen levels. The air is 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen before it goes into the concentrator. It comes out as 90% to 95% pure oxygen. The nitrogen is separated to give the patient the highest dose of oxygen possible.

Since the pandemic began, the U.S. has contributed $5.25 million to Lesotho’s COVID-19 response, including donations of personal protective equipment, medical supplies and testing supplies. The U.S. government also has helped train health care workers in COVID-19 critical clinical care, helped supervise health facilities, and provided technical support to strengthen infection control, surveillance and laboratory activities.

“This equipment handover underscores the underlying reality that COVID-19 is still a very serious health challenge,” U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires Clinton “Tad” Brown said during the ceremony. “We all must remain vigilant in our efforts to counter this devastating pandemic. Each of us still has an important role to play — from front-line health care workers across facilities, like the one we’re at today, to ordinary Basotho from Tele to Mechachane.”

Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) delivered many of Lesotho’s first vaccine doses to a mountainside clinic near Kuebunyane in late March. MAF flew the vaccines in to keep them from spoiling; delivery would have been practically impossible by road.

In Kuebunyane, three nurses with Lesotho Flying Doctor Service inoculated 60 health care workers, many of whom walked across mountainous terrain from surrounding villages to reach the clinic, according to the United Kingdom’s Keep the Faith magazine.

MAF also delivered 140 doses of the vaccine to Labakeng and Matsaile, home to mountainside health clinics.

“Some recipients of the jab were not nurses, but members of the community who have a little extra knowledge of primary health care,” South African pilot Grant Strugnell, who has flown with MAF in Lesotho since 2018, told Keep the Faith. “It’s really good news that they were included in this round of vaccination.”

Sister Juliet Lethemba, who lives at Mt. Royal Convent of the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa, in northern Lesotho’s Leribe district, is among those who cheered the vaccines’ arrival. Lethemba was among the first sisters at the convent to test positive for COVID-19 in May 2020. Since then, seven of her fellow sisters died after testing positive for the disease.

Sent to Berea Hospital for isolation and monitoring, Lethemba spent 18 grueling days on oxygen treatment.

“I was even taught how to operate the oxygen machine,” Lethemba told the United Nations.

Lethemba watched helplessly as a fellow sister at the convent struggled to breathe, eat or drink water. She eventually died in the bed next to Lethemba’s.

“Every disease needs a cure, and even if this vaccine is not perfect, at least it minimizes the chances of death and being critically ill,” Lethemba told the U.N. “That’s all the hope we need.”

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