Venezuela’s Bolivarian Oxygen Route: How Venezuelans Are Facing COVID-19 Challenges

In Venezuela, workers’ productive councils, students’ teams from the Jesús Rivero Bolivarian Workers’ University (UBTJR), and Workers’ Militia in SIDOR, PDVSA Petroleum Services, in coordination with regional governments, mayors, the General Health Services and organized communities, are supplying liquid oxygen to the public healthcare system of Venezuela.

In about two months, they have supplied more than 40% of the demand for oxygen in the public healthcare system, which is particularly necessary for treatment of patients with COVID-19. They have provided 100% of the requirements of the industrial clinics of Petróleos de Venezuela in Miranda and the Capital District, and have met 100% of the cylinder refilling requirements for families with patients who require respiratory support therapy and are in possession of cylinders for medicinal oxygen.

Born in the working class
PDVSA workers Carlos Moreno and Alison García told Sputnik that the initiative emerged after infections peaked in some states of the country in the beginning of February this year, when oxygen was in insufficient supply for patients in Monagas state, and from there this initiative was replicated in other states of the country.

”When the Brazilian variants (P1 and P2) of COVID-19 arrived in Venezuela, and with it the number of highly critical cases started increasing in the entire metropolitan area of Caracas in March, this productive chain was started in the capital for the benefit of the population in general,” they explained.

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The workers are constructing the Bolivarian national route in Venezuela, based on this productive chain. The objective is to advance the construction of a national system for the production of goods and services and fair distribution and exchange.

”It was an organized and conscious action of solidarity, framed in the humanist vision of our Bolivarian revolution, which allows us to liberate health from the notion of merchandise and recover the meaning of work as a social process to timely satisfy our needs and have a more humane and just society,” added the PDVSA employees.

Dispatch of cylinders from the Centro Oxygen plant recently reactivated for CDIs of the Capital District and Miranda - Sputnik Mundo, 1920, 12.06.2021
Dispatch of cylinders from the Centro Oxígeno plant recently reactivated for Comprehensive Diagnostic Centers of the Capital District and Miranda © Photo: Antolín Rivera

The oxygen produced in SIDOR was transferred by PDVSA for the benefit of the entire Venezuelan population. Lives were saved; care in hospitals and health centers improved. An oxygen-producing plant, Oxígeno del Centro, was reactivated in Miranda state and the local market for cylinders became more balanced, which had earlier been affected by speculations in the supply of oxygen cylinders, and at one point they were sold for $50 when their real value would be around $15.

Antolín Rivera, a PDVSA worker who participates in this initiative, commented that the national oxygen production system was studied, with focus on various aspects like demand, distribution, and the companies involved in the process, and now this experience is being utilized in the oxygen supply system of other states of the country, such as Carabobo and Zulia.

Cylinder filling at the Center's Oxygen Plant recently in Los Valles del Tuy, Miranda state - Sputnik Mundo, 1920, 12.06.2021
Cylinder filling at the Centro Oxígeno Plant recently in Los Valles del Tuy, Miranda state. © Photo: Antolín Rivera

In the course of their work, the volunteers discovered different critical issues. For example, in Caracas the links in the supply system delivering liquid oxygen to all hospitals and health centers are not the same, which limits the possibilities for a third party or PDVSA teams to deliver liquid oxygen.

”On the other hand, at the moment the number of available cylinders is low, making it a commodity and therefore generating speculation, hoarding, among other issues, to charge higher prices,” informed Rivera. ”It should be noted that the production and/or availability of oxygen is not the conjunctural problem or bottleneck, because its production is tied to that of nitrogen and the latter is of greater commercial value than oxygen itself, the ratio is more than three to one.”

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The supply system works as follows:

• SIDOR, under the organization of productive councils of workers, produce oxygen in bulk and also for direct recharge of cylinders, completely free of charge;
• PDVSA overviews the Public Healthcare System of the metropolitan area, the needs of the industrial clinics, of the affected families, and is organized into operational teams to manage a schedule for the supply of liquid oxygen and the direct refills of medical oxygen cylinders.
• PDVSA Petroleum Services make available the cryogenic tanks for the transfer of oxygen from SIDOR to the different states in the national territory, and to the Centro Oxígeno Plant located in Valles del Tuy, Miranda state, where 40% of the cylinders needed by the metropolitan area are refilled.
• Regional Governments coordinate, establish agreements and sign strategic alliances between the public and private sectors, provide fuel and light transport for the distribution of cylinders.
• Municipalities, according to their capacity, deploy the municipal resources to improve the control, distribution and monitoring of the supply of cylinders to sentinel centers, hospitals, outpatient clinics and Comprehensive Diagnostic Centers (CDI), according to their demand.
• General Health Service of each state identifies the need of oxygen according to the number of patients in the nearby sectors, and their oxygen consumption and storage systems (tanks, water heaters, oxygen cylinders), determines the geographical areas of the region that requires more attention, prioritizes the cylinder refill path, etc. In coordination with the government and PDVSA staff, they attend to the daily cylinder refill process.
• Ministry of Popular Power for University Education, and UBTJR participate as study teams, generating a continuous and permanent comprehensive collective self-training method, formulating training programs for the certification of knowledge, solving critical issues and improving production and refilling plans of medical oxygen cylinders.
• Communities in general and the families of people affected with COVID-19 cooperate in a leading way in the implementation of collection and delivery of cylinders daily.

The perspectives
Ricardo León, external director of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and member of the Petroleum General Staff, summarized to Sputnik the lessons learned in the process.

”The significance of this activity that we call the Bolivarian oxygen route is that it gives us several lessons and an overview of organizational balances,” explained León. ”First, we were able to guarantee the supply of oxygen at a time when there was a fairly high peak of infections in states like Monagas, Anzoátegui, Caracas, Miranda, and we managed to save lives at that time with the supply of oxygen and the increase in the number of beds for the care of patients with COVID-19, especially at the level of the CDIs. That was the greatest achievement of the Bolivarian oxygen route.”

”Another important achievement of this activity,” added León, ”is that we have been able to build a whole system in which, from the oxygen production plant located in SIDOR, all the work and effort made by PDVSA workers to bring oxygen to the capital region and the joint work of the different state actors, including private ones, such as the oxygen plant in Santa Teresa area of ​​Miranda state which had been out of service for seven years, represent a network that allowed us to achieve real results in the management of healthcare issue.”

For León, the construction of this network of wills is to go beyond the situation generated by the pandemic and permanently guarantee ”the supply of gas, and not just oxygen” in one of the most severely blockaded countries in the world.

Team of workers from Petróleos de Venezuela Sidor and study teams from the Universidad Bolívares de los Trabajadores Jesús Rivero (UBTJR) - Sputnik Mundo, 1920, 12.06.2021
Team of workers from Petróleos de Venezuela SIDOR and study teams from the Universidad Bolívariana de los Trabajadores Jesús Rivero (UBTJR) © Photo: Antolín Rivera

The external director of the state oil company adds nitrogen and argon as part of this larger plan that would allow them to advance to a second stage that consists of supplying oxygen to the country’s industrial sector, thereby ensuring ”the activation of several industries in the industrial hubs of Miranda state, and it may even impact other states of the country.”

According to León, the Bolivarian oxygen route, in addition to saving lives, has also assured the Venezuelan state enormous amounts of saved resources.

”In a cost structure that was made between the Ministry of Internal Trade and the PDVSA and Pequiven team, it was assured that an oxygen cylinder should have a real cost of about $15,” highlighted León. ”If we multiply the almost 6,000 cylinders that we have filled for this figure, we have a net savings for the Public Healthcare System.”

”However, beyond the quantitative issue, from a qualitative point of view, the real contribution that has been made so far is that we have guaranteed the reliable supply of oxygen and care for patients with COVID-19 in various states of the country and save their lives,” asserted the PDVSA official. ”It was our fundamental objective from the beginning: to support the healthcare system in this conjuncture of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the emergence of the new Brazilian strain, that we could help patients, that there was no oxygen deficit at the healthcare centers, and we have achieved it,” he concluded.


Featured image: Workers loading a gas truck.© Foto : Antolín Rivera.

(Sputnik News) by Mauricio Montes

Translation: Orinoco Tribune




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