Geneva – On World Pneumonia Day 2022, Unitaid reaffirms its commitment to address global inequities in access to medical oxygen as a key driver to reduce the number of deaths in children under five years old.
Despite being preventable and curable, pneumonia, an acute form of respiratory infection, remains the world’s biggest infectious killer of children under-5 years, accounting for more than 740,000 deaths in 2019, mostly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Coupled with antibiotics, medical oxygen could save the lives of many children who develop severe pneumonia. But many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) face serious challenges in accessing safe and affordable oxygen.
Even before the pandemic, it was estimated that 9 in 10 hospitals in LMICs lacked access to life-saving oxygen therapy. COVID-19 has only worsened this situation, leading to many preventable deaths and straining fragile health systems.
Challenges for accessing safe and affordable oxygen are multiple and can range from availability, quality, affordability, management, supply, human resources capacity and safety.
Unitaid has invested US$ 130 million to date to secure sustainable access to oxygen and expand access to pulse oximeters, essential life-saving portable devices that can detect when medical oxygen is needed. This work could potentially save the lives of as many as 320,000 pneumonia deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization estimates.
Unitaid has been addressing access to medical oxygen since 2019 through a diverse portfolio of investments including piloting pulse oximetry and fever management at primary health care level to identify and refer critically ill children to hospitals without delay, advancing improved non-invasive ventilation strategies for newborns and oxygen concentrator technologies.
Spearheading progress through market shaping interventions (improved affordability, increased production capacity and accelerated equipment delivery times), technical support and capacity building, Unitaid and partners are also leading efforts to scale-up access and availability to medical oxygen, implementing adequate and sustainable oxygen solutions in LMICs.
Among key achievements, Unitaid has supported oxygen needs assessments in 51 countries, has contributed to securing price reductions for liquid oxygen following unprecedent agreement with two major gas companies that enabled other scale-up partners to secure increased access with the same funding levels, and has ensured sufficient oxygen supply by installing or repairing oxygen production plants and piping systems and other respiratory care equipment.
Increasing the availability of medical oxygen commodities and ensuring a sustainable oxygen ecosystem will enable greater impact of Unitaid’s work to both improve child survival with triage and treatment tools and help respond to future global health emergencies, two programmatic priorities of Unitaid’s strategy 2023-2027.
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