TUNISIA – As Tunisia faces a surge of COVID-19 cases, demand for life-saving oxygen has grown higher than the supply, leaving patients desperate.

Tunisia consumed between 25,000 and 30,000 liters of oxygen daily before the pandemic. Now, the North African nation consumes 10 times the amount, between 230,000 to 240,000 liters of oxygen per day. Meanwhile, its production capacity is only at 100,000 liters per day, according to the Ministry of Health.

Private hospitals and clinics are also witnessing unprecedented pressure and intense demand for resuscitation and oxygen beds.

That has caused a shortage of liquid oxygen in hospital tanks, and prompted the health authorities to request supplies from Algeria to enhance its strategic stock and avoid interruption in health units.

Authorities have now ordered private clinics to contribute oxygen until there is a return to the normal oxygen supply pattern.

However, the ministry denies claims that the health system in Tunisia is collapsing, saying it has received adequate aid from Arab and European countries, including oxygen machines, vaccines and field hospitals.

As the misery grows, traders have seized on an opportunity for profit, buying supplies of oxygen and other treatments and then renting them or selling them at higher prices.

The profitable enterprise that is growing online has prompted citizens to call on authorities for intervention.

The pandemic comes as the nation in North Africa, the only success story of the Arab Spring of a decade ago, finds itself beset by overlapping political and economic crises.

Last month President Kais Saied fired the prime minister, froze the parliament and took on executive powers in what he says is a bid to save the country.

He began ruling by decree after nationwide protests over the nation’s deteriorating social and economic situation, topped by the raging coronavirus epidemic.

On July 21, President Saied ordered the military to take over management of the national response to the pandemic.

Tunisia, with a population of 12 million, has reported more deaths per capita in the pandemic than any African country and has had among the highest daily death rates per capita in the world in recent weeks. More than 20,000 Tunisians have died so far, and the vaccination rate remains low.

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