Drop in rates of oxygen concentrators, cylinder refill

During the peak of COVID-19 second wave, the cost of an oxygen cylinder refill had gone up to ₹2,000-2,500. Now, it has come down to ₹500 in Hyderabad. Nagara Gopal   | Photo Credit: NAGARA GOPAL

With the rate of COVID-19 infection gradually slowing down, the prices of medical oxygen, which had increased by 700% to 800% during the two months of the distressing second wave, have also come down.

Pre-COVID, a bulk cylinder could be refilled for around ₹300. However, as the second wave set in, leading to a spike in number of patients in need of oxygen, the cost of one refill climbed to ₹2,000-2,500. Now, a refill costs ₹500 in Hyderabad.

The upsurge

From 360-odd patients admitted to hospital ICUs on March 1 this year, the occupancy increased to over 4,100 in the third week of April. On Sunday, the number stood at 2,987. ICU admissions in hospitals is taken as an important measure to indicate severity of the infection.

At the peak of the second wave, ICU beds in major government and corporate hospitals in Hyderabad were mostly full. For many, finding a bed equipped with oxygen supply was a challenge.

The oxygen saturation levels of a COVID patient dropping below 95 is considered risky, so many attendants used to make rounds of hospitals to find a bed. As a temporary measure to keep the patient safe, family members and friends made arrangements for oxygen cylinders. This pushed up demand for oxygen cylinders and oxygen concentrators, and the manufacturers cashed in on the demand. Desperate pleas on social media platforms requesting for medical resources are still fresh in people’s minds.

However, now with a drop in severe COVID cases, the prices of the resources have dropped too. “Now, it costs ₹500 per refill of a bulk oxygen cylinder,” said Mujtaba Askari, trustee of Helping Hand foundation, an NGO which provided the cylinders based on requests from desperate families.

Several volunteers were also involved in arranging or providing oxygen cylinders to needy patients at their home. Besides the manufacturers, ambulance drivers also charged more from people citing exorbitant charges in refilling cylinders or of other resources such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Oxygen concentrators

Also in great demand and short supply were oxygen concentrators. Their exorbitant price stunned everyone — they were sold for ₹45,000-60,000 before COVID but during the peak of the second wave, the cost went up to ₹1.5 lakh to ₹1.8 lakh. People who wanted to buy and keep it at home as a precaution decided against it after finding out the price. Some organisations leased them for around ₹1,000 a day.

Now, their prices too have come down. “There is no demand for the oxygen concentrators now. Earlier, people used to rent it at ₹1,000 a day. Now, no body is ready to pay even ₹500 a day as rent,” said a trader on condition of anonymity.

Dr Mujtaba said several NRI doctors and others from US and Europe, connected with members of voluntary organisations here and donated the oxygen concentrators. “We are now in a position to give it to patients in rural districts too,” he said.

Other resources

Another major organisation involved in providing medical services to COVID-19 patients said prices of other medical resources also went up during the peak of second wave. Oxygen flow meters which usually cost around ₹450 were sold for ₹3,000 or more while oxygen regulators worth ₹1,400 were sold for ₹3,600. Nasal cannula whose cost is ₹18 were priced at ₹55 while the ₹25 surgical spirit was sold for ₹45.

“These prices have to be regulated during periods of high demand so that people don’t bear the brunt of exorbitant charges,” said the head of the organisation, seeking anonymity.

President of Indian Medical Association-Warangal, P. Sudhir Kumar said prices of the oxygen cylinder refill is still around ₹1,000 in Warangal. If the prices are regulated, burden on hospitals and thus patients will decrease. Dr Sudhir also said that taxes on all forms of medial resources used in COVID-19 treatment have to be waived off so that financial burden on people comes down.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2021 5:50:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/drop-in-rates-of-oxygen-concentrators-cylinder-refill/article34806996.ece

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