JAKARTA, Indonesia

Health facilities in Indonesia, especially on the most populated Java islands are facing oxygen shortage due to a spike in coronavirus cases in the country.

The administration of Al-Islam Hospital in Bandung, West Java province, said it was unable to accept patients with symptoms of shortness of breath last week due to limited oxygen supply.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on Monday, Muhammad Iqbal, director of the hospital said the step was taken as oxygen distribution had been hampered.

“We decided to halt the service for new patients with shortness of breath to maintain the availability of oxygen for patients who were already receiving treatment at the hospital,” Iqbal said.

Some 33 COVID-19 patients died at the Central General Hospital (RSUP) in Yogyakarta province after the central oxygen supply was depleted.

However, spokesman for the hospital Banu Hermawan told Anadolu Agency that all 33 patients received oxygen from a tank but died due to their critical conditions.

According to the Indonesian Hospital Association, the need for oxygen in hospitals suddenly surged as the number of COVID-19 patients continued to rise in the past month.

Lia Partakusuma, the association’s Secretary-General, said the government had already been informed during a meeting with parliament members about insufficient medical oxygen supply and its distribution not functioning well owing to an increase in the frequency of requests in all hospitals.

“The hospital usually only refills oxygen twice a week, and it now runs out shortly after being refilled in the morning,” Partakusuma explained.

She expected that the number of medical oxygen deliveries to hospitals will increase, but that hospitals’ decision to discontinue services for COVID-19 patients will be difficult to avoid in this critical situation.

“They (hospitals) are worried that they may be sued for not providing sufficient treatment if there is no oxygen available when patients require it,” she added.

The government has responded to this situation by diverting 90% of the domestic oxygen production capacity from industrial needs to be used for medical purposes.

“We have received a commitment that 90% of industrial oxygen will be provided for medical purposes,” said Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin during the meeting

Indonesia also plans to import oxygen tanks to meet the growing demand from emergency rooms amid the surge in COVID-19 patients.

More COVID-19 patients die outside hospitals

Indonesia has recently been experiencing its highest rates of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started.

Over the past five weeks, the number of COVID-19 patients increased by 3.5 times from 23,000 to 81,000, according to the Ministry of Health.

“The surge in COVID-19 cases was triggered by high mobility during Eid holidays and spurred by the emergence of the Delta variant,” the health minister said.

The government is continuing to increase the capacity of isolation beds and intensive care units (ICUs), converting the Emergency Room (IGD) into the patient isolation rooms and set up emergency tents.

However, Partakusuma said these efforts are not enough to stem the hospitals’ burden. She noted that most hospitals on Java are already over capacity, with some having to turn away patients.

A number of hospitals in Surabaya, East Java, and Bandung, West Java have been forced to close emergency departments as they are running at overcapacity.

“Many health workers have been infected with COVID-19 even though they have been fully vaccinated,” she added.

At least 1,031 medical workers in Indonesia have died from COVID-19.

On Monday, the country saw a new high of 558 deaths and 29,745 new cases, with Jakarta accounting for over 10,000 new cases, West Java for almost 7,000, and Central Java for over 3,000.

According to the LaporCovid-19 and the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), 265 coronavirus patients in self-isolation died between June and July 2, 2021.

Irma Hidayana, the LaporCovid-19 founder, said patients died while self-isolating, trying to find health facilities, or waiting in hospital emergency rooms.

She also said the number did not accurately reflect the true situation in the field because not everyone reported to them, to social media, or to the mainstream media.

“This must be soon anticipated to prevent more deaths outside health facilities,” Hidayana stressed.

In the middle of the pandemic, the community also believed that the government has failed to fulfill its citizens’ health rights.

LaporCovid-19 and YLBHI encouraged the government to strengthen health facilities and the workers’ capacity as a preventative strategy.

“A stricter mobility restriction must be imposed to prevent the escalating rise in coronavirus infections,” they added.

*Writing by Rhany Chairunissa Rufinaldo and Maria Elisa Hospita from Anadolu Agency’s Indonesian- language service in Jakarta

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