Cylinders of all sizes lined up on the sidewalk outside a Peruvian store: a hundred people, some since dawn, stood in line to buy oxygen that would keep their loved ones living with COVID-19 alive.
“We have to wait to get some oxygen because a sick person, someone in our family in serious condition, needs it every day,” explains Guillermo Arias, 53, outside a store. the port city of Callao, near Lima.
At the same time, outside the door of the Dos de Mayo hospital in Lima, other people are looking for the precious gas.
Peru faces an oxygen shortage due to the pandemic. The government says it will import it and has said it is now considered a “strategic health resource with medical priority over industrial use”.
According to Social Security (Essalud), which manages 400 hospitals and practices, demand has increased fivefold since the start of the health crisis.
“Patients have run out of oxygen inside (the hospital), I had to buy two balloons so my father could be transferred there,” said Olga Bravo, 44.
“We cannot find oxygen, I am especially worried about my mother, because she will need a lot and the hospital has run out,” said Lady Savalla, 35.
The shortage first hit settlements in the Peruvian Amazon, then reached the capital Lima and the nearby port of Callao, home to 10 of the 33 million Peruvians.
Prices have exploded: “Before, it cost 30 floors (nine dollars) per cubic meter, now it’s 60 floors (18 dollars). How to do? If people run out of oxygen, they die, “wonders Jorge Contreras, whose loved one is sick.
10,000 people hospitalized
With more than 183,198 cases, including 5,301 deaths, according to the latest official figures for Thursday evening, Peru is the second country in Latin America in number of infected, after Brazil.
More than 9,000 patients with the new coronavirus are currently hospitalized, putting the healthcare system on the brink of breakdown.
“Lack of oxygen is a latent risk in several regions,” not just Lima, says head of the college of doctors in the Chiclayo region, Manuel Soria.
In the Amazon region of Loreto, there is now oxygen in the regional capital, Iquitos, but the remote areas located in the heart of the jungle have not been replenished.
“We need oxygen because we need to get it to the peripheral areas, where there is a big need. We need to set up factories to supply the population, but the size of the region makes transportation difficult, “said regional health manager Carlos Calampa.
“Coronavirus patients have the oxygen that is (normally) given only to critically ill patients who have gone through high-risk operations. There are five times more, it’s hyperinflation because patients need very high-speed oxygen, “said Essalud spokesman César Chaname on RPP radio.
“We are going to put in place a plan, as we did with the drugs (in May to avoid the rise in prices), we are going to do it with oxygen,” promised the Minister of Health, Victor Zamora.