Non-profit organisation Partners In Health (PIH) is aiming to reduce the number of deaths caused by lack of medical oxygen through a new oxygen plant installation and repair initiative.

Building Reliable Integrated and Next Generation Oxygen Services – or BRING O2 – is an $8m project that will provide additional medical oxygen to rural, hard-to-reach communities across the globe. 

According to PIH, around 1 in 5 people who contract Covid-19 in these regions are at risk due to the lack of readily available medical-grade oxygen in hospitals and healthcare facilities, contributing to over a million deaths per year even before the pandemic. 

Admitting that there are ‘few things more heart wrenching’ than watching a patient struggle to breathe, Dr. Paul Sonenthal, Associate Director, BRING O2 Principal Investigator, PIH, said, “I have been in hospitals where all the patients sat bolt upright, gasping because the oxygen cylinder ran out.” 

“When you can put in a new oxygen cylinder and watch them ease back into bed, that’s a good moment. When you can install a proper oxygen plant so it never happens again, that’s even better, and that’s BRING O2.” 

As part of the initiative, 26 pressure swing adsorption (PSA) plants will be installed or repaired in four ‘poor’ countries where PIH conducts operations. 

By using specialised adsorbent materials, the van-sized units will produce purified oxygen through the separation of gases within atmospheric air. 

With a single plant able to supply enough oxygen for an entire district hospital, the initiative could be set to provide essential life-saving treatment to thousands of patients. 

Two plants have been purchased by PIH ready for installation in Chikwawa District Hospital, Malawi, and Butaro District Hospital in Rwanda, with additional PSA plants to be repaired across Africa and in Peru. 

Disproportionately high medical oxygen shortages in low and middle income countries (LMICs) across the globe exposed major inequities in global oxygen supply, prompting Robert Matiru, Director of Programmes at Unitaid, the organisation responsible for funding BRING O2, to state that medical oxygen shortages have been a ‘tragic feature’ of the pandemic. 

“Lack of oxygen was a major issue for so many health care systems around the world before the pandemic and Covid-19 significantly exacerbated the problem,” he added. 

“United and PIH are excited by BRING O2 precisely because this gap has been so difficult to fill, for so long.”

At gasworld’s recent Medical Gases Summit 2022, Matiru revealed that Unitaid has invested tens of millions of dollars to help advance lifesaving testing and treatment solutions for Covid-19.

”Covid took the world by storm and brought the biggest global health crisis we’ve seen in the centure,” he said. “It unmasked just how fragile and weal the medical oxygen ecosystem was and has been in LMICs and upper middle income and high income countries.”

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