Uganda: Oxygen Crisis - Arua Hospital Staff in the Spotlight Over Covid Deaths

The management of Arua Regional Referral Hospital is on the spot again after two Covid-19 patients passed away at the weekend allegedly due to lack of oxygen.

This comes barely three months after an ambulance donated by Ministry of Health was stolen from the hospital premises.

The Arua Regional Referral Hospital board chairperson, Dr Sam Okuonzi, on Monday said there has been public concern over lack of oxygen.

"People died at the weekend because of lack of oxygen. So the public raised this issue with the district leaders and I was summoned to come and solve the problem," Dr Okuonzi said.

At the weekend, police arrested two hospital electricians and preferred charges of negligence of duty on them.

The suspects were in-charge of maintaining the generator that was powering the oxygen machines.

Preliminary police investigations and statement by the two technicians indicate that on the fateful day, the staff were off duty and one of them moved with the keys to the generator house.

Dr Okuonzi said one of the electricians reported to work while drunk and without a face mask.

"We have found that the staff have not been doing their work, some of them actually mismanaged the generator plant and also the power house. So the flow of oxygen to patients has not been proper," he said during inspection of the generators on Saturday.

The generators are automated but this function was disabled allegedly because of lack of fuel. Therefore, once power goes off, the automated generator cannot start.

Dr Okuonzi said Arua hospital with a 34-bed capacity for Covid-19 patients is managing about 260 cases.

He revealed that eight patients are in critical condition while others often require oxygen.

The Arua City mayor, Mr Sam Nyakua, said there is a management issue at the facility.

"Even when there is fuel, the new generator does not work. As a result, people have died at the treatment centre. Once power goes off, those put on oxygen suffocate and die," he said.

The Ayivu East Division MP, Mr Geoffrey Feta, said: "People are dying and no action is being taken by management. There have been a lot of complaints such as stealing of drugs, equipment and recently the ambulance."

Mr Feta blamed the hospital administration and management for being negligent.

"There is typical negligence on part of the hospital because if a generator is installed and you see inconsistent supply of power but you also do not bother to ensure that the generator is standby and is working," he said.

Two weeks ago the hospital director, Dr Filbert Nyeko, said Covid-19 cases continue to increase while their ability to cope is getting exhausted.

"Our ability to provide oxygen in the region will fail if we get just two more patients that need it at that full rate," Dr Nyeko said.

He added that the Intensive Care Unit is not fully functional and asked the Ministry of Health to speed up its full operationalisation.

On Monday, the district leaders resolved that the oxygen line be connected on sole supplier of electricity (West Nile Rural Electrification Company (Wenreco) line and not generator.

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