Home Health Health inaugurates new oxygen plant with support from WHO and EU

Health inaugurates new oxygen plant with support from WHO and EU

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Oxygen Plant technicians ready giving tour of the plant to Health Minister and guests
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Honiara, 16 May 2023 – A new oxygen plant has been launched yesterday at the National Referral Hospital (NRH) by the Solomon Islands Ministry of Health and Medical Services with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Union (EU).

The oxygen plant will boost the country’s access to life-saving medical oxygen with production capacity of  around 500,000 litres of medical oxygen daily or 74 (50 liters) oxygen cylinders per day.  With this level of oxygen being generated, the oxygen plant will be able to provide non-stop oxygen to around approximately 25 patients with severe and critical pneumonia. This should be enough to cover the nationwide needs.

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The oxygen plant was handed over by the WHO and EU to the Ministry during a ceremonial event participated by Health Minister, Honourable Dr Culwick Togamana, Health Permanent Secretary, Mrs Pauline McNeil, Jose Legarra, Programme Manager of the Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific, and WHO Representative to the Solomon Islands, Dr Howard Sobel.

Delivering the keynote address, the Health Minister, Hon. Dr Culwick Togamana, highlighted that the commissioning and launching of the new oxygen plant is historical as this is the first the country has ever had. 

“Until its arrival, the Ministry entirely depended on a private firm, the sole provider of oxygen in the country, to acquire oxygen cylinders. So we had no other options but to accept their charges and incurred substantial cost in millions over the years,” explained Dr Togamana.

“This new plant will enable us to save significant amount of funds that can be utilized for other health needs. More importantly we are assured that the new plant will be able to cater for more than enough, the current demands at the NRH as it can produce 74 50-litre cylinders of oxygen per day. Surplus will be shared to health facilities across the country”, said Dr Togamana.

He thanked and praised the partnership of WHO and the EU that enabled the procurement, shipment, delivery and installation of the oxygen plant. “Thank you indeed,” he added.

The Solomon Islands is the third Pacific country to have launched a new oxygen plant as part of WHO’s access to oxygen initiative, after Vanuatu and Tonga. A total of USD 1.2 million was invested by WHO and the EU for the initiative in Solomon Islands, to complement the efforts of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services. This includes the cost of manufacturing, transportation and procurement of spare parts and oxygen cylinders.

Jose Legarra, Programme Manager of the Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific said, “To enable Pacific Island Countries to face COVID-19, the European Union committed EUR 22 million to strengthen health systems in the region, through the World Health Organization and the Pacific Community. The oxygen plant commissioned today benefited from this funding and will continue to provide Solomon Islands with improved vital medical services long after the end of COVID-19.”

The oxygen plant uses pressure-swing adsorption (PSA) technology to capture ambient air and separate the gases from each other. During this process, oxygen is concentrated to the 93% purity acceptable for medical applications. This process requires specialised training for health workers managing the oxygen plant, and WHO and EU are supporting this training as well as the commissioning for the plant.

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the crucial role that oxygen plays in the treatment of severe or critical COVID-19 patients. The demand for oxygen in the Pacific and globally skyrocketed during this time, leading to shortages. Boosting local capacity to generate oxygen helped ensure it was available to those who needed it. Thus, we worked with the European Union to scale up access to oxygen in the Solomon Islands and eight other Pacific island countries,” said WHO Representative to the Solomon Islands Dr Howard Sobel. “We are delighted to see this new oxygen plant installed here at the National Referral Hospital and ready to deliver medical-grade oxygen to all Solomon Islanders who need it.”

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