Unitaid and the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) have in the last 12 hours announced unprecedented agreements with Air Liquide and Linde, respectively, for improved access to medical oxygen.

A major development for both society and the industrial gases industry, the agreements provide a pathway to increased access to medical oxygen in low and middle-income countries during the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.

The agreements are made in the form of a non-binding Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) and have been entered into on a non-exclusive basis; agreements with other medical oxygen suppliers are still being pursued, gasworld understands.

The announcement comes following intense engagement with the world’s major oxygen suppliers by the Covid-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce, a group of partners led by Unitaid and Wellcome under the ACT-Accelerator Therapeutics pillar.

The taskforce also includes the WHO and the biomedical consortium it coordinates, as well as Unicef, The Global Fund, the World Bank, UNOPS, the Every Breath Counts coalition, CHAI, PATH, Save the Children, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Access to Medicine Foundation. gasworld’s Publisher and CEO John Raquet was also recognised for his contributions to the cause in a post from Every Breath Counts coalition lead, Leith Greenslade.

The taskforce has been working together over the past four months to address the global oxygen crisis, building on the strong track record of the agencies involved. This unprecedented collaboration with industry aims to overcome fundamental issues such as unstable funding commitments and insufficient infrastructure, which have limited the availability of medical oxygen.

medical oxygen mask

Medical oxygen shortages around the world have been a tragic feature of the pandemic, impacting the poorest countries disproportionately. These access difficulties were entrenched in many parts of the world before Covid-19, and have been exacerbated by the pandemic, putting strain on fragile health systems and resulting in preventable deaths.

Estimates from PATH, a global non-profit organisation for improving public health, suggest that around one million critically-ill Covid-19 patients in low and middle-income countries need 2.2 million oxygen cylinders (15.1 million cubic metres) per day at the moment.

There are ‘concerning surges’ reported in several countries in Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia.

Air Liquide, Linde recognised in ‘pioneering’ agreements

Carl Bildt, WHO Special Envoy for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) and former Prime Minister of Sweden, described the agreements as ‘pioneering’ and urgently needed to save lives, while both Unitaid and CHAI welcomed the commitments from Air Liquide and Linde and applauded their involvement.

Zachary Katz, Vice-President of Essential Medicines at CHAI, said, “These agreements pave the way for wider use of medical oxygen at a time when the world continues to suffer acute shortages. We applaud Air Liquide and Linde and look forward to working together to expand access to oxygen to those most in need.”

Jean-Marc de Royere, Senior Vice-President and member of the Air Liquide Group Executive Committee in charge of social programmes, reflected, “Striving to improve oxygen access in LMICs is an integral part of our sustainable development commitments announced in March 2021. Today’s announcement is also in line with Air Liquide teams’ mobilisation since the beginning of the pandemic in the countries where the group operates.”

“Leveraging on its technical expertise and know-how, the group will work along with Unitaid and CHAI, contributing to solutions to increase oxygen access in LMICs countries where demand is high and operational conditions are challenging.”

Sanjiv Lamba, Chief Operating Officer at Linde, added, “The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of access to healthcare for all. Linde’s employees stepped up in these extraordinary times to produce and deliver medical oxygen, playing a critical role in supporting healthcare systems across the world. All these efforts will be in vain if we cannot work together to improve access to medical oxygen in low and moderate income countries, overcoming the many challenges.”

“Linde is proud to partner with Unitaid and the Clinton Health Access Initiative and we look forward to working together to increase access to oxygen on a fair and equitable basis.”