Strengthening the healthcare supply chain for a potential oxygen emergency

Last year in May, India was struck with the second wave of the pandemic, during which the nation grappled with meeting the demand for medical oxygen, which soared ten-folds. 

To meet the demand and save as many lives as possible, the concentration of oxygen production plants was increased, additional tankers were airlifted from abroad, tankers used for liquid argon and nitrogen were converted to carry oxygen, special Oxygen Express trains were introduced, hospitals in over 550 cities and districts were geo-mapped and an online system was established to track the real-time movement of the commodity.

Now as once again, we find ourselves in a tough spot with the vast spread of omicron questions on preparation for the next oxygen emergency rises.

How can we strengthen our oxygen and healthcare supply chain and ensure efficient distribution?

Shoot-up the production capacity

Ever since the second wave, the centre and state government have together been working on making the nation oxygen self-sufficiency. 1,222 PSA plants, producing 1,750 metric tons of captive oxygen daily have been funded by the PM Cares fund. Also, new plants have been established across states through public sector undertakings and corporate sponsorships.

However, going ahead, the centre and state government will be required to harness private sector capacities to produce, store and transport LMO and develop plans to leverage these as and when required.

States across the nation will be required to offer incentives to private companies to set up more oxygen plants as done by the Bihar state government under its new Oxygen Production Policy 2021. as well as low-interest financing, as incentives for setting up these plants.

Ensuring effective O&M of the entire oxygen supply chain will be the key. 

Maintenance of infrastructure

While a phenomenal effort is being made to create captive oxygen plants, its’ imperative to be able to maintain them with adequate resources.

One has to ensure that the established plants continue to have a high production capacity and effective O&M.

To ensure the long-term sustainability of the oxygen plants, storage tanks, and delivery systems the centre must introduce annual maintenance contracts (AMC), similar to what is offered to the 1,222 plants procured under the PM Cares funds.

In addition to this, skilling the technicians who are responsible for operating and maintaining these plants and cold storage equipment is also important. India already launched an initiative to train 8000 technicians on the O&M of the plants after the second wave, but we do need it to be a more hands-on-deck situation when it comes to skill development to be fully equipped.

Bridging the gap in Logistic and distribution

Yes, the oxygen supply did fell short, but what created more of an issue was the nation’s inability to distribute it efficiently to the affected area.

Developing an infrastructure to meet the oxygen demand which is expensive and rarely used is not enough to make the nation oxygen self-sufficient. It is imperative to strengthen the multimodal logistics infra of the nation to connect the different supply centers and meet the demand.

In addition to this, the establishment of strategically located buffer storages across the nation can help reduce the delivery time and reduce the overall cost of transporting the oxygen.

Digitalizing the entire chain and equipping the oxygen cylinders and trucks with track and trace will make operations more effective and eliminate bottlenecks.

Forecast Demand

Learning from experience, many forecasting and modeling techniques have been used to get a fine and deep understanding of production, demand, and storage requirements.

Systems such as Oxygen Demand Aggregation Systems (ODAS) and Oxygen Digital Tracking Systems (ODTS) have helped states to keep track of the oxygen at different points of the supply chain. 

The use of Artificial Intelligence and digital connectivity into the system will further help monitor consumption and forecast demand, enabling a swift response to any potential surges, and managing the tricky last-mile logistics.

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