COVID-19 Emergency Oxygen Response

COVID-19 Emergency Oxygen Response


Photo credit: Newborn Foundation

New York/London, 25 February 2021 – The Every Breath Counts Coalition welcomes the announcement by the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) of a $US1.6 billion COVID-19 Emergency Oxygen Response to help the worst-affected low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) ensure that no more COVID-19 patients die for lack of oxygen.

The Coalition applauds Unitaid and the Wellcome Trust for establishing a COVID-19 Emergency Oxygen Taskforce* as part of the ACT-A “Therapeutics” pillar. 

“This is a major step that recognizes the critical status of oxygen as an essential medicine and a vital therapy. Oxygen is often the only therapy available to COVID-19 patients in low-resource settings,” said Leith Greenslade, Coordinator of the Every Breath Counts Coalition. 

For months, media reports have documented hospitals running out of oxygen in countries such as South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya, eSwatini, Lesotho, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Lebanon and Pakistan, resulting in patient deaths and the tragic plight of families forced to purchase oxygen cylinders at great cost to treat their relatives. 

National and regional political leaders, desperate health professionals in affected hospitals, and family members have all requested urgent help as the sheer quantities of oxygen needed by COVID-19 patients overwhelm existing capacity.

Every Breath Counts is calling on the new ACT-A COVID-19 Emergency Oxygen Taskforce to move quickly in the weeks ahead. It also urges ministries of health and finance in the worst-affected countries to work together to quantify oxygen needs and to ensure that any unspent COVID-19 financing, especially from the World Bank, is released to finance oxygen gaps. The coalition looks to regional leaders like the African Union and the Africa CDC to support these efforts.

It is clear that what is needed are large-scale oxygen solutions to rapidly increase the capacity of COVID-19 treatment facilities in a short space of time, including bulk liquid oxygen, large quantities of oxygen cylinders and, in specific cases, minimum 10 litres-per-minute oxygen concentrators. The COVID-19 Emergency Oxygen Response should provide these solutions in addition to access to biomedical engineering expertise to troubleshoot rapid installation and maintenance issues, and professionals to train hospital staff to operate new equipment. 

Every Breath Counts looks forward to working with the ACT-A COVID-19 Emergency Oxygen Taskforce to engage donor governments, development financing institutions, multilateral agencies, such as the Global Fund, and foundations to mobilize the additional financing required. This will ensure that all LMICs have the oxygen they need to keep COVID-19 patients alive while they wait for vaccines, which could take another 12 months to become widely available.

Every Breath Counts, a public-private partnership, also encourages companies with the capacity to contribute to the Emergency Oxygen Response to step up. Leading medical gas company Air Liquide has already offered to ship bulk liquid oxygen at cost to support the emergency oxygen response. This is an opportunity for more companies to play a leading role in reducing COVID-19 deaths and to help strengthen health systems in emerging markets for the long-term.

“Medical oxygen is an investment that will continue to save lives beyond the pandemic,” maintained Leith Greenslade, pointing out that newborns, children, women in childbirth, adults with communicable and non-communicable diseases, and patients requiring surgery will all benefit from greater access to medical oxygen. 

Investments in oxygen now will not only help countries reduce COVID-19 deaths but also make faster progress to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. This is particularly true in the “double-burden” pneumonia countries now struggling with very high burdens of COVID-19 and other causes of pneumonia, especially among children.

Time is of the essence as the COVID-19 Oxygen Needs Tracker continues to show sharp rises in daily oxygen needs in many LMICs. Both COVID-19 and other patients will continue to die for lack of oxygen if emergency support is not provided now.

“All members of the Coalition can play a role in ensuring the successful implementation of the COVID-19 Emergency Oxygen Response in the coming weeks and months,” added Leith Greenslade. “Let’s get our act together and invest in oxygen.” 



* COVID-19 Emergency Oxygen Taskforce members include Unitaid, Wellcome Trust, WHO, UNICEF, Global Fund, World Bank, UNOPS, Save the Children, PATH, Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), and the Every Breath Counts Coalition.

Every Breath Counts is a coalition of governments, United Nations and multilateral agencies, companies, foundations, non-government organizations (NGOs) and academic institutions supporting low- and middle-income countries to reduce deaths from pneumonia in order to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to strengthen health systems.

Leith Greenslade, Coordinator
Every Breath Counts Coalition