A fresh breath of air in Haiti

Posted on 06/22/10


The new oxygen compressor can fill 50 tanks per day.


The new oxygen compressor


View from the exterior of the new oxygen compressor in Cange.


In the days after the January 12 earthquake, a lack of access to oxygen therapy contributed to the deaths of many patients seeking care in hospitals around Haiti.

The problem was with the country's primary oxygen concentrator—the machine that extracts oxygen from the air, purifies it, and concentrates it in large metal tanks—was seriously damaged during the earthquake. In the weeks that followed, hospitals and health clinics around the country scrambled to import oxygen from other countries in the region. The level of destruction made importing anything, regardless of how important it was, incredibly complex.
While Zanmi Lasante’s (ZL) facilities were well-stocked prior to the earthquake, ZL still spent an average of $26,400 per year on refilling oxygen tanks through the facility in Port-au-Prince—enough to hire three operating room nurses. After January 12, ZL—like most health care providers in Haiti—was forced to look elsewhere for its oxygen. The best solution was to import supply from Santo Domingo, the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic. As more and more patients flooded into ZL’s health centers in the days and weeks following the earthquake, the need for oxygen skyrocketed, along with the cost of transporting the tanks across the Haiti-Dominican border.
In response to this situation, ZL staff decided that it was in their best interest to build and operate an independent oxygen concentrator. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ZL hired Oxygen Generating Systems, a U.S.-based company, to build a freestanding facility on ZL’s flagship medical facility in Cange, Haiti.
The concentrator—housed in a large, windowless concrete building—should be finished by the end of this month. The anticipated output is about 50 tanks of oxygen per day, which will supply all of ZL’s 13 sites in Haiti. This addition to the Cange medical complex will help ensure that ZL patients will have reliable access to life-saving oxygen therapy.  
ZL will employee 8 full time staff—all hired from the local community—who will operate and maintain the facility.