Cuba’s frantic race for oxygen

Russia and China to the rescue

Cuban doctors

They come with four or five tanks, people must be dying for lack of oxygen.

“Cienfuegos Hospital continues to have a deficit of oxygen. The helicopters of the Cuban Television Primetime News is symbolic for the need there,” a doctor in the province commented. The physician was referring to the images that flood the official media that illustrate the transfer of cylinders in military aircraft and trucks.

Fifty oxygen concentrators donated by the Government of China should have arrived in Havana by air over the weekend. The Telesur correspondent in Beijing echoed the tweet of a user who announced it, accompanied by two images in which the cargo piled up at the airport can be seen. The journalist recalls that recently 30 ventilators also left for the island from the Asian country, which together with Russia is becoming the largest partner of Havana after the Venezuelan collapse.

The Russians came to the aid of the Cuban authorities on Sunday to set up a plant that was added to the two that the Cuban Army already had at the San Antonio de los Baños Air Base. The Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) have made their factories available to the Ministry of Industries to support the growing demand amid the peak of the covid-19 pandemic. But nothing is enough.

The amount of oxygen a covid patient needs is impossible to determine: it depends on their condition and the time required for assistance, which can be days or months. But the needs of countries where the explosion of the pandemic arrived earlier give an idea of the quantities required. In Spain, the largest manufacturer of this product explained in April 2020 (when deaths in the country were close to a thousand a day) that the demand had multiplied by four, by seven in Madrid (the most affected region) and, in the worst days, by ten.

As of last March, according to Cuban State newspaper Granma, Gases Industriales Company, OxiCuba, located in the capital had last March, according to Granma, “the capacity to generate more production than that demanded by the Health system,” while in Santiago de Cuba it produced only 5% of the national demand on that date and covered the orders of the eastern region.


The official newspaper did not say how much medical oxygen the Cuban health system demanded, but according to data from the National Office of Statistics and Information (Onei), Cuba produced 20,726.8 million cubic meters in 2020, well below the 31,612 million of 2015, which gives an idea of the level of shortages that the country is suffering due to the US embargo coupled with a pandemic that has increased demand exponentially.

In the midst of the biggest wave of the pandemic, the worst news came: the breakage of a piece at the Havana plant, which kicked off this obstacle course to achieve one of the most necessary treatments in this context and whose current production is unknown.

Gases Industriales Santiago produces 930 cylinders a day, which it distributes mainly to the province’s health system, Granma and Guantánamo, but in recent days at least Holguín and Las Tunas have joined. To this production are added the 360 cylinders every 24 hours in charge of the military factories and the Russian plant installed at the San Antonio de los Baños Air Base.

A Public Health director, quoted by the Havana Tribune , admitted that in recent months compressed air had been used as a substitute for medicinal oxygen, which “also reported a deficit in recent days.”