Hewatele, a Kenya-based oxygen producer, is reportedly expanding its capacity this year to meet rising demand from hospitals treating patients suffering from COVID-19 patients. A devastating fourth wave of COVID-19 infections has hit the East African nation, putting a lot of pressure on health institutions.
According to the Ministry of Health, demand for oxygen has doubled to 880 tonnes from 410 tonnes, resulting in a severe scarcity due to a lack of installed capacity.
Bernard Olayo, Founder of Hewatele, said that the country could not provide high-flow oxygen to 2,000 patients simultaneously. Therefore, something urgently needs to be done. Hewatele aims to invest $3.5 million by the end of the year to increase production to two tonnes of oxygen per day.
The company uses a chemical approach to manufacture oxygen, separating nitrogen from the air using a naturally occurring salt. The chemical method has limitations owing to which they cannot produce a lot of oxygen.
Hewatele plans to invest another $15 million next year to create an air separation machine that will manufacture liquid oxygen, resulting in a ten-fold increase in output to 20 tonnes per day.
According to Olayo, who was inspired to generate oxygen for hospitals by his experience as a young government doctor in the country's west two decades ago, Kenya has only one such plant, which belongs to industrial gases firm BOC.
However, since this pandemic has increased the demand for oxygen and components used in oxygen plants, the procedure will be complicated.
It's pretty tough to get oxygen compressors, Olayo added. As a result, children might die of pneumonia, not because they didn't know what to do, but because they hadn't enough oxygen.
Hewatele, which provides oxygen to 200 hospitals, has three production sites to keep expenses down. Nonetheless, a liter of liquid oxygen prices at 120-150 Kenyan shillings, compared to 10 shillings for a liter. Olayo claimed, the demand significantly exceeds the supply.