The oxygen needed to keep Covid-19 patients alive has been in short supply around the world. Combine the shortage with a surging virus in an isolated region with limited access to medical resources, and you have a situation like the one in the Brazilian state of Amazonas.
On Jan. 14 and 15, dozens of Brazilians asphyxiated in the Amazonas state capital of Manaus after oxygen supplies ran out, according to the Washington Post. “There is a collapse in the health-care system in Manaus,” Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said at the time. According to the Post, Manaus is short by the amount of oxygen needed for 70 critical patients per day.
Local facilities in Amazonas can produce less than half of the daily oxygen supply needed for patients in Manaus, a city of 2.2 million people, isolated in the vast Amazon rain forest with no drivable highways connecting it to the rest of Brazil. Additional oxygen comes by truck from Venezuela, by week-long boat trip from eastern Brazil, or flown in by the Brazilian Air Force.
During the first wave of the pandemic last April, Manaus became the first city in Brazil forced to bury Covid victims in a mass grave. So many of the city’s residents had been infected by mid-2020 that researchers thought the city was becoming a natural experiment with herd immunity.
Instead, a new surge hit the city in December, and by January, more than 100 people a day were dying in the city. Worse, according to the BMJ, many new patients are infected with the P.1 variant of the Covid virus, which appears to have evolved to make it more infectious.
On January 25, Amazonas Governor Wilson Miranda Lima issued a global appeal for oxygen and other medical supplies:
“This second wave has hit us with colossal force… Right now, the ‘Lungs of the Earth’ need oxygen. We are in dire need of medical and hospital supplies, medical oxygen, and resources for the logistical support in order for these materials to be delivered as quickly as possible in the proportion and speed that Amazonas needs.”
Direct Relief responded to the plea, granting $530,000 for purchasing an estimated 350 oxygen concentrators needed to help keep the region’s Covid patients alive.
Direct Relief made the grant to the Foundation for Amazon Sustainability. The donation was facilitated by the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCFTF, an international collaboration of state and provincial governors) and Health Bridges International (HBI, a health-focused NGO), which sought a solution to the Amazonas oxygen crisis and turned to Direct Relief.
The first 240 concentrators arrived Saturday in Manaus. The Amazonas Secretary of the Environment, Eduardo Taveira, will oversee their distribution.
Oxygen is one of the most common treatment needs for patients sick with Covid-19, as the disease lowers the lungs’ ability to absorb oxygen from the air. Oxygen concentrators pull oxygen directly out of the air rather than requiring cylinders filled with oxygen, at a time when oxygen tanks and other oxygen delivery technologies have been in short supply around the world.
This is only the latest in a long series of actions Direct Relief has taken over the past year to provide oxygen to patients who otherwise wouldn’t receive it. As word of the disease spread in January 2020, Direct Relief assessed the likely needs for medicine and equipment and began securing supplies. Among these supplies were thousands of oxygen concentrators that the organization ordered and has delivered to health providers across 45 countries, including the U.S. — from Arizona and Los Angeles to Lebanon and Yemen.
“Ending a pandemic that threatens everyone demands the type of international collaboration exemplified here by the government of Amazonas, FAS, GCFTF, HBI, and others,” said Direct Relief President and CEO Thomas Tighe. “This project will deliver life-saving support to communities in need, and we are so grateful that the aforementioned partners joined forces to execute as quickly as possible.”