COVID-19 Emergency Oxygen Response

COVID-19 Emergency Oxygen Response



Credit: Manaus, Brazil. AFP

25 January 2021

The Every Breath Counts Coalition is calling on the ACT-Accelerator lead agencies to immediately begin negotiations with the governments of the worst-affected low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), their regional representatives (e.g., African Union and CDC), medical oxygen companies and development and commercial financing institutions on a COVID-19 Emergency Oxygen Response. 

Recent media reports have documented COVID-19 hospitals running short or out of oxygen in South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya, eSwatini, Lesotho, Mexico, Peru, Brazil and Pakistan. These have often resulted in patient deaths and the tragic plight of families forced to purchase oxygen cylinders at great cost to treat their relatives. 

In recent days, national and regional political leaders, desperate health professionals in affected hospitals and family members have pleaded for urgent help as the sheer quantities of oxygen needed by COVID-19 patients overwhelm existing capacity.

What has become clear is that large-scale oxygen solutions are needed to 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, 10 litres per minute oxygen concentrators.

The missing piece is financing

With medical gas companies like Air Liquide standing ready to provide support, and UN agencies and NGOs with expertise to support health ministries, the missing piece is financing. The ACT-A institutions, global and regional development and commercial banks and LMIC governments all have a role to play. 

The Emergency Oxygen Response should also provide access to biomedical engineering expertise to troubleshoot rapid installation and maintenance issues and professionals to train hospital staff to operate new equipment. Both virtual and face-to-face solutions are needed, all with appropriate protections.

Closing the oxygen divide

Critically, medical oxygen is an investment that will continue to save lives beyond the pandemic. Newborns, children, women in childbirth, adults with both communicable and non-communicable diseases and patients requiring surgery will all benefit from greater access to medical oxygen.

Investments in oxygen now, will help countries make faster progress to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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

Let’s get our #ACTogether and #InvestinOxygen.


Contact: Leith Greenslade, Coordinator, Every Breath Counts Coalition

The Every Breath Counts Coalition supports LMICs to reduce pneumonia deaths, including from COVID-19, in order to accelerate the achievement of the global child pneumonia (GAPPD) target* and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and to strengthen health systems.

*The Integrated Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia (GAPPD) set a target of less that three child pneumonia deaths per 1,000 live births by 2025.