Oxygen Shortage in Peru
In light of the pandemic, there is an oxygen shortage in Peru. The South American country is in dire need of tanked or canister oxygen for citizens fighting COVID-19. When the outbreak first began, Peru was one of the first nations in Latin America to institute national restrictions, such as curfews, stay-at-home orders and border closures. However, the immense poverty undermined federal efforts. The poor had no choice but to continue leaving their homes for work in order to put food on the table. Despite the necessity, Peru struggles to provide vital healthcare to its infected citizens.

Why Oxygen?

COVID-19 attacks the body and makes breathing increasingly difficult for infected individuals. They simply cannot intake enough oxygen into their system to support their organs, especially those with compromised immune systems or lungs. This deprivation causes acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARSD) within five days of having the infection. The only treatment for ARSD is to replenish the patient’s lost oxygen. Clinical studies found oxygen respirators to be crucial for patient recovery from COVID-19.

Shortage Crisis

Peru’s national health care system was struggling even before the pandemic. After switching to a universal system, the program initially failed to provide for routine needs due to lack of funding. The current health crisis only amplified this inadequacy. Now, there is a full-blown oxygen shortage in the country. According to the nation’s Health Minister, Víctor Zamora, the country falls short of nearly 180 tons of oxygen every day.

The biggest issue, however, lies not in obtaining the gas. According to Gallardo, an oxygen distribution company, Peru’s oxygen shortage is not necessarily due to a lack of medically filtered oxygen. Instead, the problem occurs in the canisters transporting such oxygen. Recovering patients are hoarding the canisters instead of returning them for a refill because of their increase in value. Desperate family members of sick individuals are relying on the black market to obtain oxygen canisters.

The Response

Charities, as well as the government, are working to fight the unique oxygen shortage in Peru. In a press conference, President Martin Vizcarra revealed that $24.5 million will go toward the Health Ministry. These funds will help purchase a necessary oxygen supply for the country.

A few individuals, specifically in the religious community, have also been making a difference in the lives of the sick. In the city of Iquitos, Father Miguel Fuertes headed a fundraising campaign for poor families who cannot afford the oxygen tanks. Through these efforts, he was able to raise over $500,000 for the cause.

Another priest in northern Peru, Father José Manuel Zamora Romero, led the #ResisteLambayeque campaign. Through this effort, he was able to provide hundreds of biosafety equipment kits to struggling hospitals and medical centers. Despite the rising infection numbers and decreasing supplies, such work has positively affected hundreds and continues to instill hope for Peru.

Despite the oxygen shortage in Peru, measures to improve access to it should prove beneficial. In fact, the efforts of Father Miguel Fuertes and Father José Manuel Zamora Romero, among others, have already helped impoverished areas obtain access to oxygen tanks and medical care.

Amanda J. Godfrey
Photo: Flickr