Having wreaked havoc across the globe over the past two years, the Covid-19 pandemic also exposed a litany of weaknesses and fragilities along the medical oxygen supply chain.

Announced today, 17th August, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) will seek to address these fragilities after receiving $25m in new funding commitments from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The ELMA Foundation to build ‘oxygen ecosystems’ for nine governments in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). 

The programme is intended to support the provision of lifesaving medical oxygen care to patients in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Laos PDR, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda. 

According to CHAI, lack of access to medical oxygen contributes to over one million deaths per year – and not just due to Covid-19. 

Oxygen therapy is an essential treatment for treating pneumonia – the largest single killer of children worldwide – in addition to new-borns in respiratory distress, adults with sepsis or congenital heart disease, tuberculosis, malaria, or HIV, chronic respiratory conditions such as COPD, and patients undergoing surgery. 

Revealing that investing in oxygen pre-pandemic gave Ethiopia a head start, Dr. Lia Tadesse, Minister of Health Ethiopia, said, “Covid treatment centres were set up in facilities that had already received oxygen equipment, training, and operating guidelines.” 

“Building on this, we used the challenge of the pandemic to intensively expand access to oxygen across the country.” 

Using the funding, CHAI and its partner countries will be able to begin work on long-term oxygen solutions to boost the uptake of oxygen therapy – a medical innovation that aids in the survival of 75% of people hospitalised with Covid-19.

“To make medical oxygen accessible to everyone regardless of where they live, we must focus on creating long-term sustainable systems,” said Dr. Neil Buddy Shah, CEO, CHAI. 

These systems will include more oxygen generation plants such as pressure swing adsorption (PSA) facilities, more training, and better equipment maintenance. 

With a target to implement the programme in 15 additional countries, CHAI aims to obtain more than $60m in funding. 

By joining six donor countries, multilateral organisations, and foundations, CHAI is targeting a further $1bn to prevent oxygen shortages in LMICs in the next year alone. 

Recent donors which have made financial commitments include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Government of Germany, The Global Fund, the Skoll Foundation, Unitaid, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). 

“This new funding will help our partner governments address the current gaps, better prepare for future pandemics, and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and adults,” added Shah.