Geneva – On World Pneumonia Day, Unitaid calls on all partners to dramatically increase funding for the oxygen response and joins Every Breath Counts Coalition in urging high-burden country governments to take action to reduce air pollution-related pneumonia deaths.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, pneumonia was the world’s biggest infectious killer of adults and children with 2.5 million reported deaths in 2019. Almost a third of all pneumonia deaths were due to polluted air in 2019. This curable and preventable infectious disease remains the deadliest for children under five, claiming 670,000 lives each year; most deaths occurring among children under the age of one.
Coupled with antibiotics, medical oxygen could save the lives of many children who develop severe pneumonia. Access to medical oxygen commodities is therefore a vital component in the fight against pneumonia. Now, with the COVID-19 health crisis, the challenges around provision in low- and middle-income (LMICs) countries have never been greater.
Robert Matiru, Director of Programmes at Unitaid, warns that without increased efforts to address pneumonia and inequities in access to lifesaving tools, most low- and middle-income countries will not meet the related sustainable development goal targets set by the United Nations for 2030. The target for child mortality aims to end, by 2030, preventable deaths of new-borns and children under 5 years of age.
“We need more political commitment; we need additional investments for health products such as pulse oximeters for checking blood-oxygen level to detect severe disease as well as oxygen itself to save lives,” said Robert Matiru. “And lastly, we need more coordinated efforts among all partners at global, regional and country level.”
Since 2019, Unitaid and its partners have helped strengthen access to pulse oximeters adapted for children in primary health care facilities in LMICs. These efforts aim to address poor availability of pulse oximeters, improve the identification of hypoxaemia, and the onwards referral of severely sick children. Once hypoxaemia is identified, it is crucial that oxygen therapy is initiated as quickly as possible, but access to safe, affordable oxygen in LMICs remains low.
With the World Health Organization and Wellcome, Unitaid is leading global efforts to address barriers to oxygen access such as high pricing or lack of medical oxygen capacity. Together with multiple partners, we are working to assess and develop solutions adapted to the needs of countries such as pressure swing absorption plants, bulk liquid oxygen, as well as portable oxygen concentrators.
In addition to meet the immediate needs of the COVID-19 pandemic, this collaborative endeavour aims to leverage gains in access to medical oxygen commodities in order to help with long-term pneumonia control.
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