02 February 2024 | News

Need to improve oxygen access has not ended with the pandemic

Better supplies could prevent countless deaths from common illnesses

by P. Duneton, T. Akahori and P. Amoth – February 2, 2024
Nikkei Asia

Philippe Duneton is executive director of global health organization Unitaid. Takeshi Akahori is ambassador and assistant minister for global issues in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Patrick Amoth is the acting director general for health of Kenya.

Without oxygen, we die. This may seem obvious, but in many health facilities around the world, access to lifesaving medical oxygen is often unavailable and underfunded.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic put oxygen in the headlines, severe shortages of medical oxygen had been a problem for decades. Fewer than half of health facilities in low- and middle-income countries had uninterrupted access. Of the 7.2 million children who typically had a critical need for medical oxygen each year to treat pneumonia in low- and middle-income countries, only one in five received it.

COVID-19 made these problems much worse. Within a matter of weeks, the number of people needing medical oxygen to live increased tenfold. Many hospitals ran out of supplies, leading to countless preventable deaths.

While it is unknown how many of the 25 million deaths as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic were due to a lack of oxygen, studies have shown that hypoxemia, or low levels of oxygen in the blood, was a major cause of death from COVID-19 in low-resource settings.

The need for medical oxygen suddenly became painfully clear, and the world scrambled to respond.

Health institutions, co-led by global health organization Unitaid, launched the Oxygen Emergency Taskforce as part of a groundbreaking collaboration with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.

Read the full article here.

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