Medical oxygen is one of the most essential lifesaving interventions used at SBH. It is used in a variety of ways, from supporting a steady heart rate to helping to administer anesthetics. We use a device called an oxygen concentrator to manufacture oxygen on site. Essentially, an oxygen concentrator takes ambient air—the air we breathe—and removes the nitrogen from it. The resulting gas is near-pure oxygen, which is then pumped into patients’ nose cannulas or face masks.
When in good working order, the oxygen concentrator can produce a virtually unlimited supply of the gas. However, in times when the oxygen concentrator has broken, we have had to purchase cylinders of oxygen in Port-au-Prince. The trip to retrieve the oxygen can take up to 10 hours, and the supply is finite.
In fall 2019, roadblocks from the civil unrest in Haiti made the road connecting Fond des Blancs and Port-au-Prince impassable. Our oxygen concentrator broke, and the roadblocks made it impossible to travel to Port-au-Prince to retrieve the oxygen cylinders our patients depended on. The situation was dire: although we had a few oxygen cylinders in reserve, our supplies were quickly dwindling. If we ran out, it would threaten the lives of dozens of patients.