CdMx: Long lines, high prices and anguish for the sick. This is how the search for oxygen is suffered

The city government has started a program to give some people tanks or concentrators, which are machines that extract oxygen from the air and do not need to be recharged. But there are not enough for everyone and buying one of the machines on the private market is too expensive for most families.

By Diego Delgado

MEXICO CITY (AP) – Some residents of the capital of Mexico passed the New Years Eve in rows that meandered down a street and turned a corner, waiting fill oxygen tanks for sick relatives of COVID-19.

The city of nine million people has seen an increase in coronavirus infections and the city’s hospitals are 87 percent busy, depleting oxygen supplies.

That has led to long lines and price increases that make it difficult or impossible for some to refill tanks that, in some cases, last only a few hours.

An employee manipulates oxygen tanks to refill in Mexico City. Photo: Ginnette Riquelme, AP.

Blanca Nina Méndez Rojas waited in line Thursday to recharge the tank of her brother, who was recently discharged from a public hospital after contracting COVID-19.

“Right now we leave him disconnected (from oxygen), so he has to lie down completely so that he does not shake and has no problem when we arrive with the tank,” said Méndez Rojas, noting that two weeks ago “a refill cost 70 pesos ($ 3.50), and right now it’s 150 pesos (7.50) ”.

In a city where people are afraid to go to hospitals and those who do have trouble finding a bed, it becomes a matter of life and death.

Juan José Ledesma, a retiree from Mexico City, fell ill along with his wife and son. When her test came back positive on December 16, she had to stay home and see a private doctor because the local hospital didn’t have space.

“I have taken medication under a private situation, because we went to a health center and there was no capacity” because there were too many people coming to receive treatment, added Ledesma.

Since then, his son – who has now recovered – has had to go out three or four times a day to try to refill his father’s oxygen tank.

“Well, the cost has gone up, but two to three times,” said Ledesma. Reflecting on the problem, he cries slightly. “I think in rural areas, which is a little more difficult, but more difficult, and therefore they have to wait a little longer if they really cannot” afford this expense.

Juan José Ledesma, 68, cries when talking about his treatment for COVID-19. Photo: Marco Ugarte, AP.

Iván, an employee of an oxygen refill store who only gave his first name because his bosses did not authorize him to speak to reporters, acknowledged that sometimes there are so many people waiting, desperate for oxygen, that they cannot fill all the tanks completely.

“There are times when the oxygen is not enough for us to be able to fill the tanks completely for all the people. There are times when we have to reduce the filling so that all the people who come behind can also take some oxygen for their family member or their patients ”.

To add insult to injury, city officials have done little to combat price increases that doubled or tripled the price of a refill, but closed a black market in which industrial-grade oxygen producers were selling tanks for medical use. Industrial oxygen, which is used to operate acetylene torches, is not as pure as medical grade gas.

The city government has started a program to give some people tanks or concentrators, which are machines that extract oxygen from the air and do not need to be recharged. But there are not enough for everyone and buying one of the machines on the private market is too expensive for most families.

Before the pandemic, basic machines cost about $ 900, but prices have since risen to 1,500 or more.

“The concentrators have gone through the roof, they are profiting too much with the concentrators,” said Méndez Rojas.

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