PIH Delivers Lifesaving Oxygen To Hospitals In Peru

Oxygen will save lives in country with highest COVID-19 deaths per capita

Posted on Nov 3, 2021

Socios En Salud staff train clinicians on the installation and maintenance of oxygen equipment.
Socios En Salud staff, including Marco Zambrano, participate in a training on the installation and maintenance of oxygen equipment, held at a health center in Comas and organized by the Center for Global Health. Photo by Fernando Paz / PIH.

As COVID-19 continues to devastate communities across Peru, Socios En Salud—as Partners In Health is known locally—has delivered more than 120 oxygen concentrators and 90 oxygen tanks to hospitals nationwide, as well as installed 260 oxygen outlets directly into hospital walls, beside patient beds.

The lifesaving equipment couldn’t have come fast enough.

Peru has the highest COVID-19 deaths per capita in the world, as of early November, with more than 2.1 million cases and more than 200,000 deaths. Carabayllo, an impoverished community where Socios En Salud has worked for decades, has seen more than 10,155 cases—the highest rate of infections in northern Lima.

Socios En Salud has worked in Carabayllo for more than 25 years, ever since responding to an outbreak of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Amid COVID-19, Socios En Salud mounted a comprehensive response in partnership with the Ministry of Health, including testing, triage, and isolation, as well as connecting patients with mental health support and essential resources like food and transportation.

As the pandemic has taken a deadly toll on communities in Lima and beyond, Socios En Salud has doubled down on its efforts to deliver another essential resource: oxygen.

Helping Patients Breathe

For thousands of COVID-19 patients across Peru, medical oxygen can mean the difference between life and death. It’s one of the last lines of defense against a virus that attacks the respiratory system and, in its most severe form, requires intubation.

Patients are given oxygen in hopes that it will prevent them from needing an ICU bed.

Hospitals and health centers typically access medical oxygen through oxygen plants (standard-size shipping containers), oxygen tanks, and oxygen concentrators (bedside or portable machines).

Among the essential medical equipment provided by Socios En Salud were 260 oxygen outlets, installed directly into hospital walls—allowing the lifesaving resource to flow continuously from oxygen plants to patients’ bedsides.

"[Before the oxygen outlets] each patient used about 3 or more oxygen tanks, which had to be refilled regularly,” says Dr. Marco Tovar, medical director of Socios En Salud. “But with the installation of these oxygen outlets on the wall alongside each bed for COVID-19 patients, it will now be easier to maintain a continuous flow of oxygen, which will help everyone.”

Socios En Salud installed the oxygen equipment in health centers in eight communities, following inspections of the facilities to evaluate their needs and challenges, such as irregular access to electricity. The equipment was delivered after months of supply chain challenges, including finding manufacturers of oxygen concentrators that could meet Peru’s electrical specifications.

Socios En Salud staff inspect oxygen tanks at a health clinic in Trujillo. Photo by Walter Diaz for PIH.
Socios En Salud staff inspect oxygen tanks at a health clinic in Trujillo. Photo by Walter Diaz for PIH.

Training Clinicians, Saving Lives

As that process unfolded, Tovar and his team discovered another challenge: health workers at the clinics weren’t trained on how to use the equipment or maintain it.

To address this, Socios En Salud, with the support of its Center for Global Health, developed courses for health workers to learn how to operate and maintain oxygen equipment—technical expertise that is critical in making the efforts sustainable for the long-term. So far, the courses have enrolled and trained 116 health professionals. Three more trainings are scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, with 80 more professionals invited to participate.

And the equipment is already saving lives.

Carlos Quispe, 57, is one of dozens of patients who received care at a temporary oxygen center in Carabayllo, where Socios En Salud delivered 51 portable oxygen concentrators and 51 beds.

"I arrived [at the health center] in a bad state…I couldn’t breathe well,” says Quispe. “Today, I feel much better. The doctor and nurse in charge are constantly checking on me.”

More than 115 patients have been discharged from the center since its opening in February. After leaving the center, they receive support 24/7 from community health workers, who track their progress and teach them physical therapy techniques to help them recover from the virus and its side effects.

Quispe was able to return home and reunite with his family, with Socios En Salud’s support. It’s a success story that Dr. Carolina Muñoz, a physician at the oxygen center, hopes will continue, as COVID-19 remains a threat across the country, alongside other respiratory diseases, such as tuberculosis.

“Oxygen concentrators are a huge help in caring for patients with respiratory difficulties and prevent them from landing in an ICU bed,” she says. “With this technology, we can save the lives of thousands of people.”

Oxygen is a lifesaving resource for communities such as Trujillo, where clinicians work around the clock to keep patients breathing.
Oxygen is a lifesaving resource for communities such as Trujillo, where clinicians work around the clock to keep patients breathing. Photo by Walter Diaz for PIH.


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