On January 2, 2022, five days after the first confirmed cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant were detected in Myanmar, a new oxygen generation plant supported by Community Partners International and the Access to Health Fund opened at a facility operated by the Karen Department of Health and Welfare (KDHW) in Hpa-An, Kayin (Karen) State.
A collaboration between the KDHW and the Karen Ethnic Health Organizations Consortium (KEHOC), the new oxygen plant can produce up to 6,400 liters of compressed oxygen each day. This is enough to fill 160 40-liter cylinders, providing more than 900 hours of oxygen support each day to patients with COVID-19.
"The third wave of COVID-19 (July-September, 2021) was a very difficult time in Myanmar,” explains Dr. Marta, the KDHW’s Senior Executive Officer. “In Hpa-An, there was no access to oxygen and there were many preventable deaths. I still suffer from post-traumatic stress from that experience. We were able to save thousands of lives but we also experienced many difficult situations with patients dying while we tried to find oxygen. It is really tragic and I feel very sorry for them. Now, with this plant, we can produce oxygen on our own. If the Omicron variant hits, it will help us deliver enough oxygen to nearby communities. I believe it can help save many lives in the future.”
The new plant services a catchment area of 250 villages and several internal displacement sites that house an estimated 100,000 people. It forms part of a range of initiatives supported by Community Partners International, the Access To Health Fund and other international organizations to help the KDHW and KEHOC respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are currently implementing COVID-19 preventive activities and vaccination programs with Community Partners International’s help,” explains Dr. Marta. “We are training frontline volunteers and medical officers about preventive measures, vaccination, treatment and post-COVID management. On January 18, we received some COVID-19 vaccines and started vaccinating our communities .”
But obtaining adequate supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine remains a significant challenge. “We don’t know at this point where we can obtain all the vaccines we need,” confirms Dr. Marta. “We are looking at supply options from different sources and I hope we can get enough by June. At the same time, we are conducting COVID-19 community-based surveillance and implementing infection prevention and control measures to try and slow down transmission of the virus.”
The KDHW are also making contingency plans to cope with a worst-case scenario. “If there is an outbreak of the Omicron variant in our service areas, we will need to reopen our COVID-19 Center, which is currently on standby. The main thing is to be ready. That is what we are focusing on now. Fortunately, thanks to the oxygen plant, we’ll be able to get oxygen to people in need.”