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Kenya Opens Medical Oxygen Plant in Nakuru

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As Kenya grappled with its sixth wave of COVID-19 infections, it opened an oxygen plant that will supply health care facilities in Nakuru, about 160 kilometers northwest of Nairobi.

Launched in early July, the plant will benefit the entire Rift Valley region, officials said. Medical oxygen is critical in the treatment of severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The project is a collaboration between Topcare Limited and Oxygen Hub. Topcare is a local holding company that runs health care businesses. Oxygen Hub is an initiative that works with entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa to produce and distribute affordable medical oxygen; it was started by the Institute for Transformative Technologies, which has a branch in Nairobi.

The partnership aims to increase oxygen production in small- to medium-size hospitals near cities and rural areas. Small- and medium-size hospitals treat the majority of Kenya’s patients, according to a report by HealthCare Africa magazine. The partnership also will deliver oxygen to hospitals on planned schedules.

Topcare and Oxygen Hub launched their first oxygen plant in Kitengela, 30 kilometers south of Nairobi, in July 2021.

Citing a 2021 study by Kenya’s Ministry of Health, Topcare CEO Ruth Wambui said that oxygen availability in the nation’s hospitals is far below what is needed. The new plant can produce up to 200 cylinders of oxygen per day.

“Our wish is to bridge this gap by ensuring that anybody who requires medical oxygen, be it in the clinic, in the villages, or in a big facility, get that important service,” Wambui told Kenyan newspaper The Star.

Herma Gebru, interim chief executive officer of Oxygen Hub, said there was a shortage of medical oxygen in Africa before COVID-19 hit. Oxygen Hub has 10 medical oxygen plants in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria.

“The need for medical oxygen will continue post-COVID, only about 40% of the demand is being met,” Gebru told The Star. “We are therefore looking at poor capital consumption of oxygen before and after COVID-19. This shortage will continue to persist and that is the need we are trying to address.”

The number of COVID-19 cases in Kenya increased by 92% from mid-May to mid-June, compared to the previous four weeks. It was the second African nation to report a sixth wave, behind Mauritius.

The Ministry of Health lifted the country’s mask mandate in March, but reinstated mandatory mask-wearing in indoor public spaces and on public service vehicles and flights in late June.
Kenya reported a COVID-19 positivity rate of 12.6% on June 20, its highest rate in four months, The East African newspaper reported.

By July 17, the nation’s COVID-19 positivity rate dropped to 4.3%, with the majority of infections reported in Nairobi. At the time, three patients were on ventilator support in intensive care units and another 10 were being treated with medical oxygen, according to The Star.

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