Coordinator of EBCC and Founder and CEO of JustActions, Leith Greenslade, spoke to gasworld during the Medical Gases Virtual Event 2022, detailing the organisations’ efforts to increase equitable access to medical oxygen.
A human need
With the pandemic showing us what happens when hospitals do not have enough oxygen, it’s a ‘recipe for mass fatality’, according to Greenslade.
“Covid-19 has officially claimed more than 6m lives, but the true death toll could be five times higher,” she added.
With 80% of the world’s population – 5.7bn – living in Asia and Africa, oxygen shortages and related deaths have skyrocketed across these two regions.
Lack of oxygen, as seen in South Africa, has been exposed by the ongoing pandemic.
“And then in India, who can ever forget the images of patients lying in the parking lots of hospitals? And on the back seats of cars, suffocating as their loved ones searched frantically for oxygen.”
All LMIC countries need about 4m cubic metres of oxygen every day just to treat Covid patients. Africa and Asia comprise about 70% of that number.
An online tool built by NGOs and the Clinton Health Acess Initiative and EBCC was built to expose the ‘massive’ daily need for oxygen to treat Covid across LMICs.
“Studies suggested shocking high levels of under treatment of patients needing oxygen across Arica and Asia,” added Greenslade.
“There is no question that lack of oxugem is one of the reasons pneumonia has been the leading infectious killer in Africa and Asia for so long.”
With Dr Mike Ryan from the WHO stating that ‘Covid ripped a band aid off an old wound’, qiestopms arose around how it ended up like this.
Despite having 80% of the world’s people, Africa and Asia produce just 28% of the world’s GDP, the buying power that dries markets.
“With a limited capacity to buy medical oxygen from industry, you have a major public health problem,” said Greenslade.
“The pandemic has changed all of this. Access to oxygen now has the attention of leading global health agencies and their donor governments.
The ACT Accelerator Oxygen Emergency Task Force was launched in Feb 2021 – chaired by UNIAID. Membership from the WHO, UNICEF, the Global Fund, the Africa CDC, the World Bank, the Gates Foundation and others, the group has spent the past year building a system to help LMIC prevent oxygen shortages.
“In just one year, about $700m has flowed through the task force directly to LMICs.”
More than 100 LMICs have benefitted from this support, which has led to donations of $500m worth of oxygen support including PSA plants, mobile oxygen concentrators, and other oxygen therapies.
Greenslade praised the MoU’s signed by organisations to increase medical oxygen provision, in addition to the US Government which has announced $75m in additional support, mostly for liquid oxygen.
“Although this represents the largest amount of international donor financing for medical oxygen ever, still more is needed,” said Greenslade.
“The task more force is asking 1bn more from donors to close remaining oxygen access gaps.”
“We need to make sure health systems everywhere have the oxygen they need to address the underlying needs of all patient populations.”
Targeted towards the medical gas industry, Greenslade outlined three ‘asks’.
- Develop an access to oxygen strategy. Industry must focus on growth markets.
- Engage public health agencies
- Innovate, innovate, innovate. “Invest in new more cost-effective oxygen generation technologies that work in toughest settings,” she added.
“Will we walk away and leave millions of patients to die each year because they can’t get oxygen as if the pandemic didn’t even happen? Let’s not do that. Let’s show the world that by working together on access to medical oxygen, it is possible to achieve both business and public health goals.”