With the news that unprecedented medical oxygen agreements have been reached with Air Liquide and Linde, respectively, a pathway is forged to increased access to medical oxygen in low and middle-income countries.

The agreements come after months 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 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 has also been recognised for his contributions to the cause in a post from Every Breath Counts coalition lead, Leith Greenslade.

Agreements with other medical oxygen suppliers are still being pursued, gasworld understands, with Air Liquide and Linde the first to commit to these non-binding Memoranda of Understanding (MoU).

So what exactly have Air Liquide and Linde committed to?

Covid-19 response

The taskforce and subsequent agreements come in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, though it is acknowledged that 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.

The pandemic has exacerbated this problem, particularly in so-called ‘double-burden’ countries which are contending with high levels of pneumonia and Covid-19. As well as meeting the immediate needs of the pandemic, the Covid-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce looks to ‘leverage gains in this area’ to help with long-term pneumonia control.

Under the two memoranda of understanding signed with Air Liquide and Linde, each company has committed to work with ACT-A global health partners to facilitate equitable access to oxygen in a number of priority countries, to meet the emergency needs of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The collaboration with each supplier also aims to build a framework for local contractual agreements – in line with standard public procurement practices – which could form the basis of longer-term purchasing deals by governments and global agencies that fund access to medical oxygen, to avoid a shortage of supply as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the initiative, Unitaid and CHAI, together with the Oxygen Emergency Taskforce partners, will seek to mobilise resources to fund medical oxygen storage and infrastructure, pay for emergency supplies, and finance the transportation of equipment and other tools needed for safe, resilient medical oxygen systems.

Market interventions including advance purchase commitments and guarantees could form part of this package of measures. An estimated $400m is needed immediately to enable this vital work to take place.

Covid 19 graphic

Further actions

In addition to these pioneering agreements, the Taskforce is also working to address supply shortages for other vital commodities.

This includes oxygen concentrators and pressure swing absorption (PSA) plants, and connecting countries to sources of financing for oxygen requests, including the Global Fund’s C-19 RM mechanism and the World Bank’s COVID-19 emergency health response.

Carl Bildt, WHO Special Envoy for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) and former Prime Minister of Sweden, emphasised, “Without a much improved supply of oxygen we will see the global numbers of people dying from Covid rising even faster. That’s why an improved public-private partnership is so necessary, and the role of industry is absolutely essential.”

“I know from experience that it is a powerful combination when governments, multilaterals, and the private sector work together to solve massive issues. These pioneering oxygen agreements are urgently needed to save lives.”