Jakarta / Bekasi, Indonesia – Outside a small shop in southern Jakarta, dozens of people make a chance to save the life of their loved one.
In the Indonesian capital, oxygen is an increasingly precious commodity as the country fights a relentless rise in COVID-19 cases.
“I’m here to buy an oxygen tank for my mom, she tested positive on Sunday and we tried several hospitals, but they’re all full,” Pinta said as she waited in line.
“I received a list of places that sold oxygen, but everyone we went to was closed or exhausted. Thank God my friend told me to come here. “
The search for oxygen in Jakarta in recent weeks is an unpredictable struggle: the chances of a sick person surviving can be reduced randomly, depending on whether their relative was in the right store and at the right time.
Another woman in the queue, Winda, says she is trying to find oxygen for her brother-in-law.
“I had trouble finding oxygen last night. I went to five places, including this store and a big drug market, but it was all over, ”he said.
“We went to the health center … they said they would give oxygen at home while we waited for the hospital … but we have been waiting for two days and there is no hospital referral.”
“We’re more worried than ever”
Twenty-nine-year-old Minanti cares for her elderly father at home after she tried and failed to get into the hospital.
He is diabetic and also has heart and kidney problems, which puts him at risk for coronavirus.
But he still couldn’t get a place in the full hospitals of Jakarta.
“We tried hospitals near our house … we went to the emergency unit and they said,‘ Look around, it’s full ’and they told us they even had oxygen issues,” Minanti said.
“Another hospital was also full. They have a tent in front of the building, full of patients … we were so scared ”.
Now, like thousands of Indonesians, Minanti understands the struggle to try to acquire an oxygen tank during this wave of infections.
“It was very difficult to get the oxygen tank. We borrowed it and suddenly the owner asked for it again because they also got COVID, ”he said.
Eventually, he was able to buy an oxygen tank, but filling it is a constant struggle.
“It was almost like a miracle to get the tank. Now, he has to have non-stop oxygen because he’s constantly out of breath, ”he said.
“The government should have responded quickly from the beginning … now, the cases have exploded. The oxygen tank is difficult to buy and it is difficult to fill it and the hospitals are already full.”
“We couldn’t help them”
Not only is the general population struggling with oxygen and medicine shortages, health professionals also told Al Jazeera that they don’t have enough basics to help everyone who needs it.
Dr. Erni Herdiani is the head of the Lemah Abang Health Clinic in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Jakarta.
“We need oxygen tanks, oxygen refills and medicines. We treat serious conditions, we need medicines like remdesivir and we can’t find it, ”he said.
“We have to give patients oxygen and medicine. We are missing oxygen tanks … this is beyond my expectations. So many patients need oxygen and recharging is even harder lately. ”
Dr. Erni would like to buy more oxygen tanks for her clinic, but says it is impossible.
“At the moment, we just can’t buy it. There are no tanks. We need the government to provide it, ”he said.
As hospitals in Java and other parts of Indonesia are approaching full capacity, it is up to public health clinics to care for some of the thousands of patients who cannot be admitted.
But Dr. Erni’s team is also under pressure: there are fewer than 30 health workers in her clinic and they are monitoring more than 300 patients.
Every day, a team of itinerant doctors from his clinic visits some patients.
The team has become accustomed to finding dead patients at home.
“It simply came to our notice then [of life] at home. Sometimes we have the report of someone who died, when we check the body, they are positive, ”he said.
Dr. Erni believes official government figures, which put the death toll at more than 66,000, are underestimated.
“It simply came to our notice then. It’s very sad because we couldn’t help them. “
Even major hospitals are suffering from shortages or delays in oxygen reception.
This week, at least 33 patients with severe coronavirus infections died at a hospital in the city of Jogjakarta on the island of Java when the hospital was temporarily left without oxygen.
A spokesman for Dr Sardjito’s General Hospital told the media that there were delays from providers.
“We don’t see this problem”
Dr. Siti Nadia Tarmizi, of the Indonesian Ministry of Health, said they have already corrected logistical problems in oxygen transport.
“What happened in Jogjakarta … due to the number of patients, its stock was running out very quickly and the next shipment was only the next morning. They had limited oxygen … there was a lack of time, “he said.
“We are accelerating distribution. Previously, two or three days passed, now we ask [them] be ready to ship within 12 to 24 hours. “
The Minister of Health has instructed oxygen producers to redirect their efforts towards the supply of medical and non-industrial oxygen.
“We are working on managing the oxygen situation, in fact, from our national gas industry, the capacity is still there,” Dr. Nadia told Al Jazeera.
Dr. Nadia said the priority is to provide oxygen to hospitals and public health facilities. He said there is no shortage of oxygen.
“I do not think this has happened. We currently do not see this problem for sanitary facilities, they have a low number, but we are trying to fill their stock, ”he said.
“Cases can increase to 50,000 or 70,000 a day. The need [for oxygen] is complied with, but is not yet at the security level “.
Dr. Nadia says the Ministry of Health did not anticipate such a big jump in cases.
“The main problem was that, last week, we had a lot of patients that we didn’t expect,” he said.
“It is very difficult to find ambulances and health services. Sometimes, when they arrive at the health facility, they already die on the way … or the patients die at home.