With the news that Air Liquide and Linde have entered into unprecedented agreements to provide increased access to medical oxygen in low and middle-income countries, a major milestone is achieved both in the fight against Covid-19 (coronavirus) and in the gases industry.
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.
A breakthrough in the provision of medical oxygen to low and middle-income countries (LMICs), it is a development of key significance lauded by the international community. Here’s what those involved said about the agreements and their future impact.
A leader in the taskforce, Unitaid is naturally effusive about the announcement.
Dr. Philippe Duneton, Executive Director, said, “We welcome the engagement from Air Liquide and Linde. This is the first time such an agreement has been made to help facilitate equitable access to oxygen, an essential, lifesaving medicine. We hope that other oxygen suppliers will now follow suit and come to the table.”
“There is a real opportunity to change the course of history – both for the Covid-19 pandemic, and for other areas where medical oxygen is so vital but has been often lacking, including pneumonia control, treating women who develop complications in childbirth and trauma patients.”
“There is a real opportunity to change the course of history – both for the Covid-19 pandemic, and for other areas where medical oxygen is so vital but has been often lacking”
The Clinton Health Access Initiative, Inc. (CHAI) is a global health organisation committed to saving lives and reducing the burden of disease in low and middle-income countries, and an active member of the taskforce as a result.
Zachary Katz, Vice-President of Essential Medicines at CHAI, was keen to embrace Air Liquide and Linde as the first major oxygen providers to commit to the programme and reflected, “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.”
“These agreements pave the way for wider use of medical oxygen at a time when the world continues to suffer acute shortages.”
Air Liquide and Linde
Whilst it should be noted that the agreements have been made in the form of a non-binding Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) and entered into on a non-exclusive basis, meaning agreements with other medical oxygen suppliers are still being pursued, Air Liquide and Linde are nonetheless the first major players from the industrial gases industry to nail their colours to this important mast.
Jean-Marc de Royere, Senior Vice-President and member of the Air Liquide Group Executive Committee in charge of social programmes, said in a statement, “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, had also reflected on the importance of healthcare access for all, particularly during this pandemic.
“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,” he said. “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.”
John Raquet, gasworld
gasworld Publisher and CEO John Raquet was also involved at various stages of the taskforce and has been recognised for his contributions to the cause in a post from Leith Greenslade of the Every Breath Counts coalition.
Asked by gasworld to reflect on the significance of this development, Raquet pointed to the previous lack of understanding and communication related to the oxygen supply chain and commended the start of a new working relationship for the benefit of all.
“Having contributed in a little way to help address the urgent need to increase oxygen supplies across the world, I was only too aware last year that the NGOs and various foundations were struggling on knowledge and understanding of our industry and more importantly, on engaging gas companies – large and small – in discussions on how to improve the production and supply chain for oxygen,” he said.
“In the past there has certainly been a lack of communication between gas suppliers and governments/healthcare departments in Lower Middle-Income Countries (LMICs). The involvement of the NGOs and various foundations listed in this communique has actually enabled those decisions to begin and in effect provide a different channel for dialogue and more importantly action.”
“This represents the start of a new working relationship that we hope will greatly improve the situation of oxygen poverty that exists.”