Taita's big oxygen lie? Patients face frequent breakdowns of oxygen plant

Hewatele oxygen plant

An engineer fixing the oxygen plant machine at Moi County Referral Hospital in Voi, Taita Taveta county. 

Photo credit: Lucy Mkanyika I NATION

Frequent breakdowns of the Sh14 million oxygen plant at Moi County Referral Hospital in Taita Taveta have raised questions about the value the devolved unit got from the project. 

To improve access to medical gas, the county government in 2020 set up the plant to create a more sustainable and self-sufficient supply to its facilities.

The multimillion-shilling project was also meant to ensure reliable and low-cost oxygen supplies, which were limited in many health facilities in remote areas.

Oxygen is included on the World Health Organisation's (WHO) list of essential medicines. WHO describes oxygen as an essential medicine used to care for patients at all levels of the healthcare system, including in surgery, trauma, heart failure, asthma, pneumonia and maternal and child care.

Facilities across the county have for years used cylinders, considered the standard storage form for oxygen in most poorly resourced health facilities.

Considering the high cost of the cylinders, difficulties in transporting them and the need for regular replenishment, some hospitals have installed piped oxygen so as to get a limitless supply of the important gas.

Despite the investment, the plant at Moi County Referral Hospital is yet to serve its purpose, due to frequent breakdowns. 

Health Services Chief Officer Philomena Kirote confirmed that the plant had technical hitches.

Speaking when she briefed Governor Andrew Mwadime during his impromptu visit to the hospital, Ms Kirote said a technician would fix the plant. 

"He was here just the other day and we are expecting him to fix the problem immediately," she told the governor. 

However, a source at the hospital told Nation.Africa that the plant has been experiencing operational problems since it was completed two years ago.

"An engineer will come today (Thursday) to fix it, but it has been on and off since it was constructed," said the source, who sought anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to the media without the consent of department heads.

He revealed that all facilities across the county now rely on supply from gas manufacturers BOC Kenya.

"At Moi hospital, we get the supplies twice a week. If the gas gets depleted, then the patients are referred to other facilities," he said.

During his visit, Governor Mwadime also raised concerns about the establishment of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Mwatate Sub-County Hospital. 

He asked how patients were getting essential treatment like CT scans.

"I was told that the patients must be brought here for the CT scan and then taken back to Mwatate. I don't know why the unit was not established here, which is the largest hospital in the county," he noted.

But Ms Kirote said there were plans to expand both facilities, including installing a CT scan machine at the Mwatate hospital.

"We are optimistic that with your leadership we will be able to achieve that," he said.