- The plants will be set up in Dhaka and in North Bengal
- Those will produce medical gases such as O₂, N2, N₂O and CO2
- It will take the plants two years to go into production
- Will be built under World Bank's Covid-19 preparedness project
Bangladesh – currently dependent on private companies and a neighbouring country for medical oxygen – plans to build two plants to be self-sufficient in all types of medical gas production.
The country's healthcare fell into dire straits as demand for oxygen jumped during the Covid-19 pandemic and India stopped exporting the life-saving gas.
In light of such experience, the government will set up the medical gas plants at a cost of around Tk1,000crore under the World Bank's Covid-19 Emergency Response and Pandemic Preparedness (ERPP) project.
The plants will produce all types of medical gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.
ERPP Project Director Dr Shah Golam Nabi Tuhin told The Business Standard that health services can be provided with oxygen from private companies during normal times, but the government now has nothing to do in cases of emergency.
That is why the government is thinking of constructing two medical gas plants at a cost of Tk800-1,000 crore, he added.
"The feasibility study for setting up medical gas plants was completed in May and will be deliberated on within the next two weeks; then the DPP will be revised and work will start this fiscal year. It will take two years to go into production," said the project director.
"Hospitals in Dhaka need 50%-60% of the oxygen required in the country. That is why one medical gas plant will be set up in the vicinity of Dhaka and another in North Bengal. However, the places have not been selected yet," he added.
Sources said there is a possibility of medical gas plants being set up in Narayanganj or Munshiganj near Dhaka and Sirajganj in North Bengal.
Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the country had a daily demand of 100 tonnes of medical-grade oxygen. As the number of Covid patients increased, the demand for high-flow nasal cannula, ventilators and intensive care units (ICUs) increased unusually, driving up demand for oxygen.
According to the health ministry, the demand for oxygen per day was 300-500 tonnes due to an increase in coronavirus infections in the country.
Linde Bangladesh Limited and Spectra Oxygen Limited supply the most medical oxygen in the country. During the pandemic, the two companies supplied about 120 tonnes of oxygen, with the rest needing to be imported from India.
But Delhi stopped exporting oxygen for two and a half months from 22 April 2020 due to a rise in Covid-19 infections in India.
At the time, the oxygen crisis in the hospitals here became acute due to a rapid increase in Covid-19 infections. Patients died in Satkhira and Bogura due to a shortage of life-saving gas.
Now the government plans to produce oxygen under its own management given the experience of the dire situation during the pandemic.
Professor Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora, head of the Technical Committee on Medical Gas Plant Installation and additional director general of the Directorate General of Health Services, told TBS, "For medical gas, we were dependent on the private sector and other countries."
"Now we want to build our own capacity. A feasibility study has been completed and now we are in the final stages of planning. Work will begin very soon after funding is obtained," she added.