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January 28, 2021

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Late Femi Odekunle was gasping for air due to shortages in oxygen supply at the isolation centre inside the Abuja University Teaching Hospital Gwagwalada where he died on Tuesday evening from COVID-19 complication, his family and close associates told PREMIUM TIMES.

The hospital’s Chief Medical Director (CMD), Bissallah Ekele, admitted there was a shortage of oxygen in the facility, a situation he blamed on the recent surge in coronavirus infections officially declared the second wave.

He, however, said Mr Odekunle, a professor of criminology and member of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), died because of the “severity of his infection.”

His death came 12 days after he contracted COVID-19, a highly infectious disease adjudged by medical experts as potentially deadly for people with respiratory and other underlying health conditions.

“When I spoke with his wife twice between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Tuesday, I could hear in the background loud heavy rumblings of the man struggling to breathe with great difficulties and excruciating pains even though he wore oxygen masks,” former Minister of Power and Steel, Olu Agunloye, a close associate of the deceased said in a statement Tuesday, Tribune Newspaper reported.

“As a matter of fact, Femi’s friends rose stoutly to his support over the last 48 hours but it was just too late. Top Government functionaries amongst them led by Hon Minister Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola along with President’s Spokesman, Mr Femi Adesina, SGF Boss Mustapha and two sitting Governors tore through bureaucracies and red tapes and pulled stunts but the damages to Femi’s health appeared to have gone too far for remedy.”

Meanwhile, family sources told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Odekunle’s situation became severe especially because he was not getting the much-needed oxygen, making it extremely difficult for him to breath in his last hours.

They said they had to go outside the facility in search of oxygen.

Responding in a phone interview on Thursday morning, Mr Ekele, the CMD of the hospital, said the facility did its best to save the government official.

He explained how the surge in infections resulted in shortages in the supply of oxygen at the facility.

“The isolation centre at Gwagwalada is a level 3 centre so that means most of the patients we have are referrals from other facilities. We manage the most severe cases other facilities cannot handle. At least 9 out of 10 cases we have are severe. Since COVID-19 is a disease of the respiratory tract, most of our patients need oxygen for breathing.

“But with the challenge is that with the second wave of infections, we are having shortages in supply of oxygen because the demand is high. The machine we have produces about 10 cylinders of oxygen daily, which is not enough.

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“Fortunately, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 came to the rescue by contracting a private company to supply us with an additional 40 cylinders every day.

“With that, we no longer have challenges with oxygen. Anybody that dies now from the disease was as a result of the severity of the disease,” the medical director noted.

Even though Mr Ekele said the additional 40 cylinders of oxygen started arriving at the hospital on Monday barely 24 hours before Mr Odekunle died, he insisted that it was not a lack of oxygen that caused his death.

“No it was the severity of his case”, he said. “It is quite unfortunate that the professor died. We did all that is humanly possible. Both the family and the federal government showed tremendous support, but he died.”

Contacted again to ask if he was aware the family of the deceased were going about looking for oxygen as a result of a shortage in the facility, he did not take calls or return text messages.

Gasping for Air

Mr Odekunle, 77 was said to be gasping for air before he died, one of the most painful challenges sufferers of coronavirus face if they are not placed on oxygen and or ventilators, a computerised device that pumps air in and out of the lungs which has long been a crucial component of an Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

There have been acute shortages of oxygen and ventilators in Nigeria, making it difficult to properly treat people severely suffering from the disease.

As of April, Nigeria had less than 500 ICUs and ventilators for its entire 200 million populations.

The situation becomes precarious now with the recent surge in new infections officially declared the second wave.

The spike in new cases is feeding through into fatalities as hospitals and isolation centres are increasingly becoming overwhelmed.

The total Deaths tally from the COVID-19 disease in Nigeria climbed to 1, 278 after 11 more people succumbed to the contagion in the last 24 hours, the country’s infectious disease outfit, NCDC, announced late Wednesday.

In the past 12 days, there have been 66 recorded deaths from the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, the same day Mr Odekunle’s death was announced, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) lamented about shortages of oxygen and bed spaces at isolation centres, due to increasing cases hindering the treatment of Coronavirus patients.

“Treatment centres are filling up, and we are struggling to keep up. We are struggling to find oxygen to manage cases”, NCDC director, Chikwe Ihekweazu told reporters during the PTF briefing.

“Every night, we are faced with phone calls of patients desperate for care. So, unfortunately, January will be a tough month for all of us. It will be tough, but we still have an opportunity to do what we need to do.”

Mr Ekele, the CMD said the biggest challenges the Gwagwalada facility asides lack of oxygen is facing is a lack of bed space and overworking of staff.

“We have only 30 beds in this facility and it’s full to the brim. There is more pressure on the front line workers. This only confirms that the second wave is real.

“I will advise Nigerians to take safety measures seriously, avoid crowded places and use your face masks.

“Prevention is better than cure.”

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