A new international health coalition has been launched by Unitaid and a roster of other organisations to boost access to life saving medical oxygen for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
The Global Oxygen Alliance (GO2AL) aims to support countries with technical cooperation, financial solutions, capacity building and demand-generation to ensure that investments in oxygen systems made during the Covid-19 crisis are sustained.
The pandemic exposed chronic shortages of medical oxygen in LMICs, leading to preventable deaths and placed immense strain on global health systems.
According to Unitaid, even before Covid-19 swept across the world, nine in ten hospitals in LMICs were unable to provide oxygen therapy – essential for treating acute respiratory illnesses, surgery, trauma, emerging and critical care, and for treating pregnant women during childbirth.
This lack of availability resulted in as many as 800,000 preventable deaths each year.
The GO2AL will continue to the work of the Oxygen Emergency Taskforce of the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), which was launched in February 2021 to help LMICs deal with acute oxygen shortages.
In addition to raising more than $1bn to boost access to medical oxygen, the taskforce managed to negotiate agreements with the world’s two largest medical oxygen suppliers, draw up plans to increase regional production of oxygen, and help more than 100 countries to upgrade treatment facilities.
Emphasising the overwhelming case for scaling up oxygen therapy, Philippe Duneton, Executive Director at Unitaid, said, “More than one million people die each year from hypoxemia – or low blood oxygen – caused by conditions other than Covid-10, such as pneumonia, the leading cause of death among children under five.”
“This is unacceptable and cannot go on.”
By supporting treatment of diseases such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis, full access to. Oxygen and pulse oximeters could reduce mortality from all causes among hospitalised children by as much as 4%.
A close collaboration between GO2AL and the Lancet Global Health Commission also aims to address major gaps in oxygen research, mobilise a coalition to accelerate delivery of medical oxygen and reduce mortality and morbidity globally.
“Through this platform we are confident that access to medical oxygen will be treated with the urgency it deserves,” said Maureen Murenga, Executive Director at the Lean On Me Foundation and Communities Constituency, GO2AL.
“And that there will be global solidarity and political commitment embracing recent innovation to ensure that, regardless of anyone’s geographical location or economic status, we are able to access the much-needed life commodity.”
Better access to medical oxygen is urgently needed
Earlier this year a report released by the Access To Medicine Foundation (the Foundation) revealed that industrial gas companies must expand access to medical oxygen in the long term.
Read more: Better access to medical oxygen is urgently needed
Despite having taken steps to address oxygen shortages in some LMICs during the pandemic, the report stated that industrial gas companies could be doing more to better address access to medical oxygen.
Speaking at the time, Jayasree K. Iyer, CEO at the Foundation, said that the role played by gas companies in the global health ecosystem ‘needs to be prioritised’.
“Medical gases are a small part of these companies’ business, yet society needs them to ensure this vital lifeline is available both during emergencies and to meet the daily medical oxygen needs of all health systems,” she added.
Although some of the major gas companies have demonstrated the steps they are taking to improve access over the long term, the Foundation believes that clearer commitments are required to improve access to lifesaving oxygen.