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The Luke Commission Oxygen purity below WHO standards – Minister Lizzie Nkosi

The Luke Commission Executive Director Echo VanderWal and Director Community & Public Relations Rodgers Mamba.

By Silindzelwe Nxumalo

The Minister of Health Lizzie Nkosi has revealed that the Oxygen purity produced at The Luke Commission (TLC) is still awaiting test certificates that meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) specifications.

In a press statement released on Wednesday night clarifying the glowing media reports of how the Oxygen plant from The Luke Commission (TLC) has saved many lives and helped discard the oxygen dependence from South Africa, the Minister has stated that government is actually awaiting test certificates that meet WHO standards to ensure that the oxygen provided to EmaSwati is of recommended quality to save lives and additionally government procurement processes will need to be followed as well to ensure this.

The Ministry stated that the WHO standards for Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) plant specifies 93 per cent +/-3 per cent for oxygen purity yet the one provided by The Luke Commission, after several samples were taken, found that it was below the recommended WHO specification, with some samples as low as 82.7 per cent.

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“TLC received the report and updated Government that they are working to address issues raised and will plan to retest this month,” part of the statement from the Minister reads. Nkosi mentioned that the government had had a series of meetings with TLC to ascertain the purity of the oxygen produced at the TLC Pressure Swing Adsorption (PS) plant.

“Local authorities supported TLC in bringing in an independent certified entity to test oxygen purity for PSA plants to conduct relevant tests,” she said. She explained that several samples were taken and were found to be below the recommended WHO specification, with some samples as low as 82.7 per cent.

“The Ministry is awaiting test certificates that meet WHO standards to ensure that oxygen provided to emaSwati is of recommended quality to save lives,” she said. She added that the government procurement processes would need to be followed as well. The statement from the Ministry of Health comes after the TLC invited the media for a tour of Oxygen Plant at Sidvokodvo which was constructed in 52 days, at the height of the second of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, costing the non-government organisation a sum of E1 million per month.

The Luke Commission Oxygen plant.

Executive Director Echo VanderWal told the members of the fourth estate that TLC started constructing the oxygen plant with a bank overdraft, which is now costing them E500 000, excluding the principal loan of the overdraft which was sourced from a commercial bank. She also highlighted that funding its electricity was expensive as it was around E250 000 per month. She explained that when constructing the oxygen plant, which has become a drawcard and has seen people from various countries visiting to see it and use it as a benchmark, there was a grant from Global Fund, which became a missed opportunity for TLC as it does not make it to the list of beneficiaries.

VanderWal had also revealed that they started to produce oxygen 20 days before the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic at 2 500 litres per minute (LPM) while the capacity for bottling cylinders was completed on June 25, 2021 which was four days before the political unrest started. The Executive director also stated that their oxygen plant was one of the biggest in the continent as it supplied 400 cylinders per day.

VanderWal related how during the thirdwave, they admitted 90 per cent of the nation’s Covid-19 intensive care unit (ICU) patients. She approximated them to have been over 1700 admissions and this, he said, resulted in the personnel at the centre operating 24 hours per day as there were also a total of 6 056-night admissions for Covid-19 during the third wave.

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“There are heroes whose names remain unknown who laid their lives for the nation during Covid-19 and sacrificed in any way possible to cater for the nation,” she said during the breakfast meeting hosted by TLC for the Editors Forum and members of the media on Tuesday.

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