Bed and oxygen shortage takes its toll on pandemic-hit Indonesia

Healthcare workers checking the oxygen tanks inside an emergency tent for patients at a hospital in Bekasi, West Java, on June 28, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - Ms Ika Arumsari was lying in a hospital bed recovering from Covid-19 when she was told her youngest sister Laurens Djuhana, 21, had died in another hospital.

"She needed an ICU (intensive care unit) but none was available. She also didn't get enough oxygen," Ms Ika told The Straits Times by phone on Monday (June 28).

The two sisters experienced first-hand how the latest surge of infections, dominated by the more transmissible Delta variant, has overloaded Indonesia's hospitals.

Ms Laurens died on June 25, just three days after she was admitted to a hospital in Tangerang, Banten province. She spent most of her stay in the emergency room.

With no other beds available, Ms Ika was admitted to a different hospital after a two-day wait.

"The day she passed, she was being transferred from the emergency room to a hospital ward. But then she had to be rushed back to the emergency room, because it was connected to the hospital's main medical oxygen system," Ms Ika said of her sister.

"She told the nurse she couldn't feel the oxygen. During the transfer, they used an oxygen canister that apparently ran out of oxygen," added Ms Ika.

Indonesia is struggling with an unprecedented surge in demand for medical oxygen as it battles the pandemic.

Most of its hospitals are equipped with a bulk medical oxygen delivery system where liquid oxygen is converted to oxygen gas and channelled through connection ports located in wall panels in a hospital room.

When the system is strained from overuse, however, it can, in certain circumstances, stall or shut down altogether, say healthcare facilities experts.

Hospitals have turned to buying more portable oxygen canisters to cope with demand, causing a shortage in some parts of the country.

Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin has told local oxygen canister producers, many of whom are located in West Java province, to shift capacity from producing industrial oxygen to producing medical oxygen instead.

A man carrying an oxygen tank for sick family members, in Jakarta on June 30, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

This move, however, comes too late for Ms Ika and her family.

The day Ms Laurens died, some family members had visited her in the emergency room, while Ms Ika had a brief video call with her sister.

By the time the family made their way home from the visit, the hospital called to inform them that Ms Laurens had died.

"Her dream was to become a television news anchor. She was preparing for it," said Ms Ika of her late sister.

(From far left) Ms Ika Arumsari with her mother Supriyanti and sister Laurens Djuhana - who died from Covid-19 at the age of 21 last Friday - at their mother's birthday party in 2019.
(From left) Ms Ika Arumsari with her mother Supriyanti and sister Laurens Djuhana - who died from Covid-19 at the age of 21 - at their mother's birthday party in 2019. PHOTO: COURTESY OF IKA ARUMSARI'S FAMILY

Ms Ika, who works in an advertising agency, was in the process of registering for a vaccine shot when she caught the coronavirus.

She and Ms Laurens lived in the same household with their 62-year-old mother Supriyanti, another sister and her husband, and their one-year-old infant.

Another sister, who lives in a separate household, also tested positive for Covid-19.

The extended family had a gathering and the virus spread among them before any of them displayed symptoms of being ill.

Only three of them have been vaccinated - Ms Supriyanti and the two other sisters who work as kindergarten teachers.

Indonesia began its vaccination drive in mid-January, with the elderly, public officials and teachers among the first to get inoculated.

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