To meet the very high demand for medical oxygen due to the surging Covid-19 cases, the union government had taken proactive action in the first week of April 2020, before oxygen shortages started to appear in several hospitals mostly in Delhi.
On 6th April, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) had organised a meeting of stakeholders involved in the production of medical oxygen in the country, including the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association (AIIGMA) and Drugs Controller General of India. In the meeting chaired by the union minister of Commerce & Industry Piyush Goyal, it was decided that manufacturers of industrial oxygen will be granted permission to produce medical oxygen within 24 hours of receiving such application.
The proposal was made by AIIGMA president Saket Tiku, who said that a similar exercise has been started in Germany where industrial oxygen is being converted into medical oxygen. DPIIT discussed the suggestion with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), and on the very next day on 7th April 2020, an order was issued to grant permission to industrial oxygen manufacturers to manufacture oxygen for medical use.
The order said, “premises which are having the facility to manufacture industrial oxygen should be granted manufacturing license to manufacture medical oxygen for medical use within 24 hours of the receiving the application, fees etc. as per the Drugs & Cosmetic Act,1940 & rules thereunder and undertaking in writing to manufacture the medical oxygen”.
The order was immediately sent to the drug controllers of all the states and union territories so that it can be implemented as soon as possible to ensure the supply of medical oxygen from industrial oxygen producers.
Accordingly, a large number of industrial oxygen manufacturers have started manufacturing medical oxygen, and it has helped in increasing the supply of medical oxygen for the treatment of critical Covid-19 patients. Apart from Delhi, which is facing an acute shortage as it is entirely dependent on supply from other states, the supply of the gas has seen improvement in the last few days. However, as the demand also keep rising due to the increasing number of new cases per day, some hospitals in other states also face shortages now and then.
The central government has taken several other initiatives to meet the growing demand of medical oxygen, and to transport it from the production sites to medical facilities where it is needed. The Union Railway Ministry has started the Oxygen Express service, which is carrying road tankers on the rail wagons. Indian Air Force has also stepped in to use its transport aircraft to carry oxygen tankers, along with other medical equipment and drugs. Moreover, it has been decided that oxygen generation plants will be installed at 100 hospitals across the country using the PM CARES fund. The govt has also taken steps to import 50000 MT of oxygen to bridge the demand-supply gap while production of medical oxygen in the country increases.