Oxygen Is Life – Particularly for COVID-19 Treatment – New Taskforce Aims To Raise US$1.6 billion For Supplies In Low- and Middle-Income Countries
Essential COVID-19 supplies like oxygen remain in short supply in many others,

A new COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce has been created in response to the dearth of sustainable oxygen supplies in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) – and its critical importance for treatment of COVID-19. 

Co-created by Unitaid and Wellcome Trust in partnership with the WHO and a range of other global public health agencies, the taskforce, launched Thursday, is taking a new role to coordinate and advocate for increased supply of oxygen in LMICs. 

The oxygen supply in most LMIC’s was already constrained prior to COVID-19, and needs have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

According to an oxygen tracker tool created by the Geneva-based PATH, LMIC countries need about 7.8 million cubic meters of oxygen per day to treat the more than half a million hospitalized patients. That translates into a supply of about 1.46 million cylinders of oxygen per day, with 25 countries currently reporting surges in demand, especially in Africa. 

PATH COVID oxygen tracker tool

Paul Schreier, Chief Operating Officer at Wellcome, said: “We have made critical advances in providing lifesaving clinical care and treatments to COVID-19 patients over the last year. The impact of the combination of oxygen and dexamethasone to treat severely ill patients has, in particular, been incredible.”

“But global access to advances remains unequal. We need to urgently increase access to medical oxygen to ensure patients are benefiting regardless of where they live and ability to pay. International solidarity is the quickest – and only – way out of this pandemic. It is a public health, scientific, economic and moral imperative that all tools are made available globally.”

PATH COVID oxygen tracker shows needs for oxygen by country,
US 1.6 billion Needed – US$90 Million Immediately  

The Taskforce says that some US$ 90 million in immediate funding is needed to address key challenges in oxygen access in delivery in up to 20 countries, including Malawi, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.  Unitaid and Wellcome will make an immediate contribution of up to US $20 million in total for emergency response. Urgent, short-term requirements of additional countries will be measured in the coming weeks, with the overall estimated funding needed to be US $1.6 billion. 

Philippe Duneton, Executive Director of Unitaid, said: “This is a global emergency that needs a truly global response, both from international organisations and donors. Many of the countries seeing this demand struggled before the pandemic to meet their daily oxygen needs. 

“Now it’s more vital than ever that we come together to build on the work that has already been done, with a firm commitment to helping the worst-affected countries as quickly as possible.”

The COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce also brings together a long list of other organizations that have been working to improve access to oxygen since the start of the pandemic – WHO, UNICEF, the Global Fund, World Bank, Save the Children, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), PATH, and the Every Breath Counts coalition to end pneumonia.

‘Double-Burden’ of Pneumonia and COVID-19 Places Strain on Global Health Systems 

Even before COVID-19, pneumonia was the world’s biggest infectious killer of adults and children, claiming the lives of 2.5 million people in 2019. 

COVID-19 has put increased strain on health systems, especially in ‘double-burden’ countries with both high levels of pneumonia and COVID-19. Many hospitals in LMICs are running out of oxygen, resulting in preventable deaths and families of hospitalized patients paying a premium for scarce oxygen supplies. 

Oxygen has long been regarded as an essential medicine, and despite being vital for the effective treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, LMICs cannot access crucial oxygen supply due to costs, infrastructure constraints, and logistical barriers.  

The Taskforce recognizes the central importance of oxygen in treatment, and partners will focus on four key objectives as part of an emergency response plan: measuring acute and longer-term oxygen needs in LMICs; connecting countries to financing partners for their assessed oxygen requirements; and supporting the procurement and supply of oxygen, along with related products and services.

They will also address the need  for innovation market-shaping interventions and reinforce advocacy efforts to highlight the importance of oxygen access in the COVID-19 response. As well as meeting immediate needs of the pandemic, the taskforce will also look to aid in long-term pneumonia control.  


Image Credits: Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness – Second Progress Report. , PATH .

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