With roughly one million new cases of coronavirus (Covid-19) being reported around the globe every week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned hospitals are facing a shortage of oxygen concentrators.

The vital piece of equipment supports severe and critical Covid-19 patients who cannot get enough oxygen into their blood by breathing normally.

According to WHO, the world needs about 620,000 cubic metres of oxygen a day, which is about 88,000 large cylinders, to treat the current rate of new cases each week.

Medical oxygen is produced using oxygen concentrators, which extract and purify oxygen from the air.

“Many countries are now experiencing difficulties in obtaining oxygen concentrators,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at yesterday’s media briefing.

“80 percent of the market is owned by just a few companies, and demand is currently outstripping supply.”

WHO said it is working with its UN partners and manufacturers across the world through a variety of private sector networks to buy oxygen concentrators for countries that need them most.

Ongoing talks with suppliers in recent weeks have enabled WHO to buy 14,000 oxygen concentrators, which will be sent to 120 countries in the coming weeks.

WHO has identified a further 170,000 concentrators that can be available over the next six months, with a value of $100m.

In addition, WHO said it has bought 9,800 pulse oximeters, a simple device used to monitor oxygen in a patient’s blood, which are being prepared for shipment.

“Another challenge is that many patients with critical disease need a higher flow rate of oxygen than is produced by most commercially available concentrators,” Ghebreyesus said.

“To address this challenge, WHO is supporting several countries to buy equipment that will enable them to generate their own concentrated oxygen in larger amounts. This is a sustainable solution for Covid-19 and beyond, but requires technical expertise for maintenance.”