Unscrupulous traders have been selling medical oxygen extortionately, thus mounting the sufferings of Covid-19 and non-Covid patients as the demand for oxygen cylinders at household level goes up.
Many families having elderly persons with asthma, heart or lungs diseases are buying cylinders as a precaution, fearing that they might not get admitted to any hospital during this crisis.
Some Covid-19 cases are buying cylinders as they do not want to visit hospitals, said physicians and sufferers.
Oxygen cylinder sale and rent have become a lucrative business with the growing number of Covid cases and sufferings at hospitals.
A 2,000-litre cylinder was Tk 11,000 before Eid. It now sells at Tk 25,000-35,000, depending on brand names.
Talking to the FE, Bilkis Khan, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 along with her mother and brother, said her mother has heart problems and allergy.
She would need hospital admission during normal time if she had a cold as she suffers from serious breathing difficulties.
"I was thinking of buying a cylinder before my mother tested corona-positive as I was afraid she might not get admitted to any hospital once she'd have breathing difficulties."
"As I contacted some online traders of oxygen cylinders earlier, they asked for Tk 11,000," Ms Khan recalled.
After Eid, they asked for Tk 16,000 on grounds of limited stock, she said, adding that the next day they asked for Tk 35,000 for non-branded Chinese cylinders.
The non-branded and low-quality Chinese cylinders of 1,400 litres was selling at Tk 5,000-6,000. Now, those are selling at Tk 10,000-12,000.
"I couldn't buy a cylinder yet… The companies that sought Tk 35,000 now say they don't have any stock. They are touting this just to raise price," she said.
Another COVID patient, who has been infected along with his wife, is searching for a pulse oximeter for her to check saturation of oxygen level as she has asthma.
He has bought a non-branded Chinese oximeter from a famous pharmacy at a cost of Tk 3,000.
The price of an oximeter earlier ranged between Tk 1,500 and Tk 2,000, but it has now reached Tk 4,000.
But the man still does not want to buy a cylinder as the saturation level of his wife is above 95 per cent.
The rental of an oxygen cylinder has also gone up manifold.
Traders are renting a 1400-litre cylinder at Tk 5,000-6,000 a month with a security deposit of Tk 10,000.
Ms Khan said some companies earlier asked Tk 25-30 per day which would stand at an estimated Tk 1,000.
When asked, Shyamoli Chest Disease Hospital director Dr Abu Raihan said COPD and COVID patients with oxygen saturation level 92-93 per cent need oxygen support.
Usually, the saturation level is 99, the associate professor cited.
"I've seen many COVID-19 patients having breathing problem do not want to be admitted at hospital. They then buy oxygen cylinder for use at home."
Dr Raihan said a COPD patient needs 14-hour oxygen support in 24 hours. There is no risk to use oxygen cylinder at household level.
But they must check the saturation level using an oximeter. Then a patient can be given five to six litres of oxygen per minute with highest oxygen concentrator, he added.
"The highest 10 litres of oxygen can be given per minute at home. If the patient needs more support, high-flow oxygen or central oxygen line at a hospital is required."
Artificial crisis of oxygen cylinders is being created by dishonest traders during this pandemic, Dr Raihan agreed.
He claimed there are adequate oxygen cylinders at public hospitals, but the patients are not interested in getting admitted there.
Acknowledging price rises, a trader said the price has gone up from Tk 5,000-7,000 to Tk 22,000-25,000.
A single cylinder which was Tk 18,000 on Friday now sells at Tk 25,000 as stock is limited.
There is no supply from Bangladesh Oxygen Company. Everything, including pulse oximeter, cannula and mask, are now being imported from China.