oxygen sells for gold on the black market in Peru

By Amanda Chaparro

Posted today at 11:19 am

It’s a “Crime”, a “Betrayal to the fatherland”. Pilar Mazzetti, doctor and president of the so-called “Covid-19 commando” in charge of the fight against the epidemic, does not have words hard enough to qualify the speculation on the prices of oxygen, while Peru is confronted with a worrying shortage of medical gas and that close to 10,000 patients are currently hospitalized.

Second country most affected by Covid-19 in Latin America in number of cases, after Brazil, Peru has exceeded the symbolic bar of 200,000 sick and 5,903 dead in the latest report on Thursday, June 11.

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The demand for oxygen in hospitals is 40% higher than the available production, according to the President of the Council of Ministers, Vicente Zeballos. Currently, 216 tonnes of oxygen are used daily and 136 tonnes are missing. The needs are constantly increasing. The government calculates that they will be around 400 tonnes per day by the end of June.

Estimates which hide an even more worrying reality. According to Cesar Chaname, spokesman for social security Essalud, it is a “Véreal tsunami » which swept across the country, with an exponential increase in demand for “500% to 600%” since the start of the pandemic. “In Peru, it must be remembered that patients have significant comorbidities (obesity, overweight) and require high doses of oxygen, sometimes for more than twenty days”, he says.

A woman takes her sick mother to the respiratory illness department at Dos De Mayo Hospital in Lima on June 3.
In front of Dos De Mayo Hospital in Lima on June 3, a woman is carrying an empty oxygen cylinder belonging to a loved one to go and fill it.

“Insufficient” declarations of intent

The shortage first hit the town of Iquitos in the Amazon – where doctors had raised the alarm several weeks ago – and then hit other parts of the north. It now affects the capital Lima, where one third of the Peruvian population lives and which accounts for more than 70% of the cases of patients with Covid-19.

Last week, the government announced that Peru has reached the peak of its production. In Lima, striking images broadcast on national television stations show queues several dozen meters in front of specialized suppliers. Buyers are willing to wait hours, if not overnight, to get oxygen for their sick parents.

People wait to fill their oxygen bottles in Callao, near Lima, on June 3.

The black market has grown and speculation is rife. According to the office of the defender of rights, the price of the 10 m oxygen balloon3 would cost between 3,500 and 6,000 soles, around 900 to 1,500 euros. A price multiplied by ten compared to the start of the epidemic, the first case of which was recorded on March 5. A sum inaccessible for most Peruvians, many of whom lost their income during the crisis. Families contribute and go into debt to buy a ball. However, Cesar Chaname tempers: “The black market represents only 2% at 3% of the oxygen in circulation. “

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A report released on June 6 by human rights defender Walter Gutierrez accuses the government of President Martin Vizcarra of not having anticipated, despite having been informed in late April of the upcoming shortage. On Thursday, June 4, the government finally decreed emergency measures. Oxygen has been qualified of ” good public “ and of “Resource of strategic interest”. The decree orders that medical oxygen be given priority over industrial oxygen. But these declarations of intent arrive late and are “Insufficient”, judge Walter Gutierrez, for whom “Binding measures”.

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With the recovery of the economy decided in June and the resumption of certain strategic activities such as the mining and metallurgy, industrial oxygen needs will again increase and weigh on the health sector, worries the office of the defender Rights. Peru has announced the import of medical gas to its Colombian, Ecuadorian and Chilean neighbors. “We are only at the beginning of the oxygen crisis, believes Ciro Vargas, epidemiologist and vice-president of the College of Physicians, action must be taken as soon as possibleélais. “

An employee filled an oxygen cylinder in Callao on June 3.

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