Jakarta/Bekasi, Indonesia -Outside a small shop in southern Jakarta, dozens of people lined up for the chance to save the lives of their loved ones.

In the Indonesian capital, oxygen is an increasingly precious commodity as the country fights the continuous surge in COVID-19 cases.

“I came to buy an oxygen tank for my mother. She tested positive on Sunday. We tried several hospitals but they were all full,” Pingta said while waiting in line.

“I received a list of places to sell oxygen, but every place we went was closed or ran out. Thank God, my friend let me come here.”

The search for oxygen in Jakarta in recent weeks has been an unpredictable battle-the patient’s chance of survival depends entirely on chance, and it depends on whether their relatives are in the right store at the right time.

Wenda, another woman in the line, said she was trying to find oxygen for her brother-in-law.

“I had a hard time finding oxygen last night. I went to five places, including this store and a big medicine market, but they ran out,” she said.

“We went to the health center… They said they were given oxygen at home while waiting for the hospital… But we have been waiting for two days and there is no hospital referral.”

“We are more worried than ever before”

The 29-year-old Minanti took care of his elderly father at home after trying to admit him but failed.

Minanti is one of many Indonesians who are forced to take care of the sick at home. Her father’s underlying illness makes him particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 [Al Jazeera]

He has diabetes and heart and kidney problems, which increases his risk of contracting the coronavirus.

But he still couldn’t find a place in the crowded hospital in Jakarta.

“We tried the hospital near our house… We went to the emergency room and they said,’Look around, it’s full,’ and they told us that even if they have an oxygen problem,” Minanti said.

“The other hospital is also full. They have a tent in front of the building, which is full of patients… We are very scared.”

Now, like thousands of Indonesians, Minanti understands the hardship of trying to purchase oxygen cylinders in this wave of infections.

“Obtaining an oxygen tank is very difficult. We borrowed it and suddenly the owner asked for it back because they were also infected with the new coronavirus,” she said.

In the end, she was able to buy an oxygen tank-but refilling it was an ongoing struggle.

“Getting the tank is almost like a miracle. Now, he has to keep breathing oxygen because he is often out of breath,” she said.

“The government should respond quickly from the beginning… Now, the number of cases is increasing. Oxygen tanks are difficult to buy, and it is difficult to replenish them. Hospitals are already overcrowded.

‘We can’t help them’

The staff of the public health clinic examines COVID-19 patients isolated at home [Fakhrur Rozi/Al Jazeera]

It is not only ordinary people who are struggling with oxygen and drug shortages-health professionals also told Al Jazeera that they do not have enough necessities to help everyone in need.

Dr. Erni Herdiani is the head of Lemah Abang Health Clinic in Bekasi, a suburb of Jakarta.

“We need oxygen tanks, oxygen supplements and medicines. We treat serious diseases, and we need medicines like remdesivir, but we can’t find it,” she said.

“We need to provide patients with oxygen and medicine. Our lack of oxygen tanks… This is beyond my expectation. With so many patients needing oxygen, it has become more difficult to replenish oxygen recently.”

Dr. Erni wanted to buy more oxygen tanks for her clinic, but said it was impossible.

“Now, we just can’t buy it. There is no tank. We need the government to provide it,” she said.

With hospitals in Java and other parts of Indonesia approaching full capacity, public health clinics have the responsibility to care for thousands of patients who cannot be admitted.

Dr. Erni Herdiani, the head of a health clinic on the outskirts of Jakarta, said that it is increasingly difficult to find the oxygen tanks, supplements and medicines needed to treat patients with COVID-19 [Jessica Washington/Al Jazeera]

But Dr. Erni’s team is also under pressure-her clinic has fewer than 30 health workers, and they are monitoring more than 300 patients.

Every day, a traveling medical team in her clinic visits some patients.

The team has become accustomed to finding patients who have died at home.

“Now, there are a lot of losses [of life] at home. Sometimes, we receive reports of deaths, and when we examine the bodies, they are positive,” she said.

Dr. Erni believes that official official statistics show that the death toll exceeds 66,000, which is an underestimate.

“It’s underestimated. Very sad because we can’t help them.”

Even large hospitals are struggling to solve the problem of oxygen shortage or delay.

This week, the hospital in Yogyakarta, Java, was temporarily deprived of oxygen and at least 33 patients with severe coronavirus infections died.

A spokesperson for Dr. Sardjito General Hospital told the media that there was a delay in the supplier.

‘We didn’t see that problem’

Dr. Siti Nadia Tarmizi of the Indonesian Ministry of Health said that they have corrected the logistics of transporting oxygen.

“What happened in Yogyakarta…Due to the large number of patients, their stocks will soon run out, and the next shipment will not be shipped until the next morning. They have limited oxygen…there is a lack of time,” she says.

“We are speeding up the distribution. It used to be two or three days, now ask [them] Ready to send in a 12 to 24 hour period. “

At a hospital in Bekasi near Jakarta, medical staff are checking oxygen tanks in emergency tents to observe patients with COVID-19 [File: Mast Irham/EPA]

The Minister of Health has instructed oxygen producers to shift their efforts to provide medical rather than industrial oxygen.

Dr. Nadia told Al Jazeera: “We are working hard to manage the oxygen situation. In fact, from the perspective of our country’s natural gas industry, production capacity still exists.”

Dr. Nadia said that the top priority is to provide oxygen to hospitals and public health facilities. She said there was no shortage of oxygen.

“I don’t think this has happened. We currently don’t see this problem with sanitation facilities, their numbers are very small, but we try to fill their inventory,” she said.

“The number of cases per day may increase to 50,000 or 70,000. Demand [for oxygen] It has been completed, but has not yet reached a safe level. “

Dr. Nadia said that the Ministry of Health did not expect such a large increase in cases.

“The main problem is that we had a large number of patients last week, which we did not expect,” she said.

“It is difficult to find ambulances and medical facilities. Sometimes, when they arrive at the medical facility, they have already died on the way…or the patient is dying at home.”


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