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Oxygen shortages compound problem in Latin America

By Keirah Chen and Michelle Qiao Mar. 17, 2021


Nicole Kim Art


Latin American countries have been struggling to maintain oxygen supplies as their populations battle a second, deadlier wave of the pandemic. The BBC reported that inadequate oxygen supply has played a significant role in driving the death toll in Latin America to over 610,000, totaling the second highest continental death rate after Europe. Lack of oxygen cylinder supply and transportation has spiraled into a crisis, with the families of patients begging for government assistance.

Although liquid oxygen is cheaper and more concentrated, it requires infrastructure that less wealthy Latin American countries do not have.

Medical oxygen comes in two forms: pressurized gas cylinders or liquid tanks. Although liquid oxygen is cheaper and more concentrated, it requires infrastructure that less wealthy Latin American countries do not have. The World Health Organization reports that approximately one in five COVID-19 patients require respiratory support; based on this projection, with over 19 million total cases, roughly four million Latin Americans have required oxygen cylinders over the duration of the pandemic. According to the public health database NGO PATH, at the beginning of this year, daily oxygen demand in Latin America surpassed 20 million gallons, but less than half of the amount needed was made available to patients.

Manaus, the center of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, and Lima, the capital of Peru, have some of the highest proportional death rates on the continent. In Lima, lines for oxygen have become so long that family members of the infected have camped outside for days in front of distribution buildings. Supplies have also struggled to reach remote areas; helicopters are required to deliver cylinders to Manaus, where medical staff have been forced to decide which patients receive oxygen, and which patients will have to go without.

Although wealthier countries such as the United States produce large quantities of liquid oxygen, as the volume of infections continues to expand, oxygen supply and other medical resources have already faced similar strain.

Although wealthier countries such as the United States produce large quantities of liquid oxygen, as the volume of infections continues to expand, oxygen supply and other medical resources have already faced similar strain. For example, record-high COVID-19 hospitalizations in December overwhelmed Los Angeles medical staff and strained resources, forcing medical centers to stop ambulances from taking calls to pick up injured and sick people.

“I definitely believe that governments could have been better prepared for the pandemic as scientists have predicted this and have been warning us for years. This could have involved putting in restrictions earlier on to stop the spread of the virus or even simply providing more medical equipment,” Sophomore Pranavi Gandikota said.

Oxygen supply chain delays in Latin America, as well as high cost, have pushed desperate family members to turn to illegal methods of purchase. This emerging black market is fueling a feedback loop, with reports of thieves breaking into hospital storages to steal cylinders. As the situation in Manaus worsens, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has come under fire from critics who accuse his administration of inaction. Turning to social media, many Latin Americans have also called for international support.

“If the oxygen crisis continues, the pandemic will worsen. As a leader, President Bolsonaro needs to step up and help his people. Deaths will continue to spike, but these deaths should have been preventable as everyone was aware of the deadly effects of this virus,” Sophomore Desiree Vu De Leon said.

Despite infections falling across North America, COVID-19 cases continue to overwhelm the healthcare system in Central and South America. With several variants spreading across the continent and vaccine rollout slow or delayed by international shipments, Latin America’s recovery from the pandemic may be in peril.

 

About the Contributors

Keirah Chen

Staff Writer


Keirah Chen is a sophomore at Leland high school and is a staff writer. She likes going places with friends and watching horror movies.










Michelle Qiao

Staff Writer


Michelle Qiao is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer. She loves to play volleyball and spends her free time reading, drinking coffee and watching Pixar movies.

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