The importance of medical gases cannot be understated; from lifesaving respiratory treatment and cardiovascular treatments to anaesthesia mixtures and essential oxygen for pneumonia sufferers, the industry remains at the forefront of innovation, and for good reason.

Over the past two years, the medical gases world has been rocked by the Covid-19 pandemic. Supply chains were pushed to their limits and existing infrastructure – especially in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) – has been found wanting. 

How did we let this happen? 

Joined by a panel of industry-leading experts and hosted by gasworld’s Global Managing Editor Rob Cockerill and Broadcast Journalist Thomas Dee, the Medical Gases Virtual Event 2022 aims to answer questions around infrastructure, inequity, preparation, and lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Keynote 

After joining Air Liquide in 1990, Jean-Marc de Royer rose through the ranks from a sales position to become Senior Vice-President. Having been instrumental in delivering critical oxygen agreements in June last year, de Royer set the scene for the virtual event with a keynote speech.

Stating that Covid-19 has shown us just how much we rely on oxygen, de Royer referred to new developments such as high flow oxygen, which hekped improve patient outcomes.

“Highly developed countries coped on the whole rather well because they’ve got this highled developed and efficient oxygen infrastructure,” he said.

Countries without the necessary infratructure, on the other hand, were dramatically affected.

“Despite a difficult, sometimes critical public health situation everywhere across the world, exceptional efforts were made to supply oxygen.”

Emergency oxygen shipments were made to dozens of countries around the world by NGOs, public bodies and oxygen system providers.

How do we prepare for the next crisis?

Looking to the future, de Royer was optimistic in his belief that advancing technology can give us hope.

“Technology is making impressive progress in many different fields and we’ve seen that through the crisis,” he explained.

“This technology is benefitting from clean, decentralised energy systems.”

Underlying this, the fledgling digital revolution could change the way we use technology in the field of medical oxygen.

“This is a huge cause for optimism, we will, in the future, get oxygen to where it’s needed,” he added.

Key points

What’s best for patients: de Royer outlined essential points to bear in mind when moving forward.

  • Adaptation: “I think it’s best we adapt to the local circumstance.”
  • Versatility: The robustness and versatility of oxygen systems and solutions must be improved, in view of the next crisis.

“We’re going through Covid-19 now, but we need to prepare for the next crisis. This means that the production or the provision of oxygen needs to be versatile and robust.”

“Part of that is about supporting a more decentralised healthcare response, and that’s a lesson from the crisis. Primary care can play a role as a complement to hospitals.”

  • Make it work: “A consistent, reliable supply of oxygen requires proper planning, the right interfacing with medical equipment and, of course, have the adequate training of both the medical and technical staff.”

As we emerge from the crisis, de Royer emphasised the importance of using oxygen to play a ‘social role’. Seeing it as an opportunity to promote local entrepreneurs, he explained that this is key to supporting access to oxygen.

”We shouldn’t think of this as a kind of export business from the rich world to low and middle income countries,” he said. “It’s truly a collective effort where we need to beef up LMICs and their capacility as entrepeneaurs to have a sustainable response.”

Another key point surrounds finance.

Sustainable financing is a necessary part of ensuring a sustainable supply of oxygen, according to de Royer.

Plans need to be made for the regular year-in, year-out financing, maintenance, upgrades and utilities. 

”Those in the medical oxygen realm should draw experience from other medical industries to learn their lessons and speed up accessibility,” he explained.

“Our industry has been through such changes before. The home care revolution happened in the 80’s and 90’s at the end of the 20th century to treat respiratory conditions at home.”

“We collectively stepped up to that challenge. We brought millions of patients in the developed world - but also in many middle income countries - greater quality of life.”

This was achieved by introducing new medical protocols, new technology, relevant servicing and finance. To improve global oxygen accessibility, such solutions must be taken again.