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Kenya business seeks financing to make more oxygen

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Joseph Odelyn/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Kenya

Kenya's demand for medical oxygen has hit critical levels with growing numbers of seriously ill COVID-19 patients due to the delta variant of the coronavirus.

Hewatele, a social enterprise that manufactures medical oxygen, is planning to double its output in a bid to meet demand.

The Nairobi-based business produces oxygen by using a natural salt to separate oxygen and nitrogen from the air.

However, this method produces rather small quantities, leading to Hewatele's intention to invest $1.5 million US dollars in order to switch to an air separation unit that will produce liquid oxygen. It will try to produce 20 tons per day.

The new oxygen quotas will be met by raising funds through international financiers.

Bernard Olayo, a physician and founder of Hewatele, says it won't be easy as the pandemic has significantly increased the demand for oxygen and components essential for its production.

Hewatele supplies 200 hospitals in Kenya.

However, despite having three plants strategically set up to reduce the cost that is already over ten times more than most countries, Olaya said meeting demand seems beyond reach.

"You see an increase from the demand of 40 bottles a day to as high as 200 bottles a day," he said. "We have reached a point in Kenya where the demand for oxygen from our hospitals was higher than the total production capacity within the country."

At Care Hospital in Nairobi, the usage of medical oxygen cylinders increased from three to eight per day.

Staff said they needed to look for oxygen from other hospitals whenever they ran short of supplies.

"We are finding this to be a difficult time and getting this oxygen has been a hassle," said Evelyn Shiyenzi, the hospital's director of nursing services. "You go to other places to get oxygen."