11 November 2020 | Press releases

UnitaidExplore invests in second award to improve oxygen access

Geneva – Access to oxygen is one of the defining health equity issues of our time – and the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown this into sharp relief.

Healthcare facilities in low- and middle-income countries suffer from chronic shortages of medical oxygen, resulting in more than 2000 children dying every day from pneumonia.

On World Pneumonia Day 2020, Unitaid is pleased to announce the latest recipient of funding from its agility mechanism UnitaidExplore, following a call for innovations that expand access to oxygen.

The EssentialTech Centre, part of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne, will become the second organisation to take forward an exciting innovation with backing from UnitaidExplore, following the first award to Vayu Global Health.

The $1.6 million funding will be used to develop a new, affordable oxygen concentrator designed for use in remote health centres, as well as an integrated oxygen delivery service.

Oxygen concentrators take air from the atmosphere and convert it into medical oxygen. They can be an effective solution for treating children and adults in respiratory distress in low-resource environments, but are made up of complex individual components, meaning that just one broken piece can put the machine out of commission for days.

These breakdowns can leave children and adults without access to essential, life-saving oxygen treatment, and ultimately result in preventable deaths.

EPFL’s EssentialTech Centre aims to overcome these difficulties by improving the components of the concentrator technology. This involves developing a device to resist hot, humid conditions where power is intermittent and of poor quality. The concentrator will also have the ability to store both oxygen and electricity, even when power is unavailable.

The technology will complement an oxygen delivery service developed in collaboration with the Centre for Public Health and Development in Kenya and the EssentialMed Foundation in Switzerland, which includes both training and maintenance to help ensure affordable and reliable access to oxygen.

Unitaid’s Director of Strategy Janet Ginnard said: “We were compelled by the EPFL application and what they are trying to do. Starting with a holistic look at oxygen delivery and how all the pieces fit together, EPFL EssentialTech has proposed a solution that will make an impact on the health of children and adults in respiratory distress. We are excited to support them in advancing their ideas, as our second UnitaidExplore recipients.”

Leader of the EssentialTech Centre’s GlobalO2 Program Gene Saxon said: “Oxygen is an essential medicine that should be available to every child that needs it, no matter where they are born. This funding from Unitaid not only accelerates the development of an affordable and robust oxygen concentrator, but supports a fee-for-service model of oxygen delivery that includes both maintenance and training. This holistic approach will allow health-care workers to spend more time focusing on their patients, rather than their equipment.”

UnitaidExplore has recently launched its next call for applications, focusing on innovations to increase access to medicines for children. For more information, go to Innovative formulation and delivery solutions for children’s medicines in low-resource settings

Related publications:


Media contact: Charlotte Baker | +44 7904 460 181 | bakerc@unitaid.who.int

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