The COVID-19 oxygen emergency affects more than half a million people in low- and middle-income countries every day, as demand increases


  • It is estimated that more than half a million COVID-19 patients in LMIC need oxygen treatment every day.
  • New assessments show immediate funding of US $ 90 million needed to meet urgent needs in up to 20 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Unitaid and Wellcome will make an immediate contribution of up to US $ 20 million in total for emergency response.
  • The COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Task Force brings together key organizations working on access to oxygen under the ACT-Accelerator Therapeutics pillar, as COVID-19 surges and preventable deaths occur
  • The task force partners will work together to measure oxygen demand, work with financial partners, and secure oxygen supply and technical support for the worst affected countries.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, affordable and sustainable access to oxygen has been a growing challenge in low- and middle-income countries.

COVID-19 has put enormous pressure on healthcare systems as hospitals in many low- and middle-income countries have run out of oxygen, leading to preventable deaths, and families of hospitalized patients pay a premium for the meager oxygen supplies.

Oxygen is an essential medicine, and despite being vital for the effective treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, access in low- and middle-income countries is limited due to cost, infrastructure, and logistical barriers. Health facilities are often unable to access the oxygen they need, leading to unnecessary loss of life.

Recognizing the central importance of sustainable oxygen supply, alongside therapeutics such as dexamethasone, for the treatment of COVID-19, the Access to COVID Tools Accelerator Therapeutics mainstay (co-led by Unitaid and Wellcome), is taking on a new role to coordinate and advocate for increased oxygen supply and, in partnership with a WHO-led consortium[1], today announces the launch of a COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Task Force.

It is estimated that more than half a million people in low- and middle-income countries currently need 1.1 million cylinders of oxygen per day.[2], with 25 countries registering sudden increases in demand, the majority in Africa. This supply was limited before COVID-19 and has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Dr Philippe Duneton, Executive Director of Unitaid, said: “This is a global emergency that needs a truly global response, from both international organizations and donors. Many of the countries that saw this demand struggled before the pandemic to meet their daily oxygen needs. It is now more vital than ever that we come together to build on the work that has already been done, with a firm commitment to helping the most affected countries as soon as possible. “

The task force has identified an immediate funding need of US $ 90 million to address key challenges in oxygen access and delivery in up to 20 countries, including Malawi, Nigeria and Afghanistan. This first set of countries has been identified on the basis of assessments coordinated by the WHO Health Emergencies Program, in order to match the country’s needs with potential financing, such as through the World Bank.[3] and the Global Fund. Unitaid and Wellcome will make an immediate contribution of up to US $ 20 million in total for emergency response. The urgent short-term needs of other countries will be measured and calculated in the coming weeks, and ACT-A will estimate that the total financing need for the next 12 months will be US $ 1.6 billion, a figure that will be periodically reviewed by the group. of work.

Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, said: “Oxygen saves lives and it is imperative to move faster to scale comprehensively with comprehensive patient-centric solutions that improve clinical outcomes. WHO has been working through the Biomedical Consortium to bring together technical, clinical and procurement partners with around US $ 80 million in biomedical equipment procured for low- and middle-income countries. The Oxygen Working Group will help drive scaling up oxygen through more innovation, funding and training. “

Paul Schreier, COVID-19 Chief Operating Officer, said: “We have made critical progress in providing life-saving clinical care and treatment to COVID-19 patients over the past year. The impact of the combination of oxygen and dexamethasone in treating seriously ill patients has been, in particular, incredible. But global access to advancements remains uneven. We urgently need to increase access to medical oxygen to ensure that patients benefit regardless of where they live and their ability to pay. International solidarity is the fastest and only way out of this pandemic. It is a public health, scientific, economic and moral imperative that all tools are available globally. “

The task force brings together key organizations[4] who have been working to improve access to oxygen since the start of the pandemic, including Unitaid, Wellcome, WHO, Unicef, the Global Fund, the World Bank, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), PATH, the Every Breath Counts coalition and Save the Children. Building on these efforts, partners will focus on four key objectives as part of an emergency response plan: measuring longer-term and acute oxygen needs in LMICs; connect countries with financial partners for their assessed oxygen needs; and support for the procurement and supply of oxygen, along with related products and services. Other areas in the scope of the task force include addressing the need for innovative interventions to shape the market, as well as reinforcing advocacy efforts to highlight the importance of access to oxygen in the COVID-19 response.

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, said: “Oxygen is a simple medical intervention that remains in short supply for too many around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken this dire shortage and turned it into a full-blown emergency. But addressing the oxygen gap will not only help with the treatment of COVID-19 in countries that are losing too many lives. It will also help improve health systems and health outcomes beyond COVID-19 in the long term, including for the many newborns and children who need oxygen to survive. “

Editor’s Notes and Background

Even before COVID-19, pneumonia was the world’s leading infectious cause of death for adults and children, taking the lives of 2.5 million people in 2019. The pandemic has exacerbated this problem, especially in countries ‘double burdened’ facing high levels of pneumonia and COVID-19. In addition to meeting the immediate needs of the pandemic, the task force would seek to take advantage of advances in this area to help with long-term pneumonia control.

About Unitaid

Unitaid is a global health agency dedicated to finding innovative solutions to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease faster, cheaper, and more effectively in low- and middle-income countries. Her work includes funding initiatives to address important diseases such as HIV / AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, as well as HIV co-infections and comorbidities such as cervical cancer and hepatitis C, and cross-cutting areas such as the control of fever. Unitaid is now applying its expertise to address the challenges in advancing new therapies and diagnostics for the COVID-19 pandemic, and serving as a key member of the COVID Access Tool Accelerator. Unitaid is hosted by the World Health Organization.

About Wellcome

Wellcome supports science to solve the urgent health challenges everyone faces. We support discovery research on life, health, and wellness, and we’re taking on three global health challenges: mental health, global warming, and infectious diseases.

About who

The World Health Organization provides global leadership in public health within the United Nations system. Founded in 1948, WHO works with 194 Member States, in six regions and from more than 150 offices, to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable. Our goal for the 2019-2023 period is to ensure one billion more people have universal health coverage, protect one billion more from health emergencies, and provide a further one billion people with better health and well-being.

About ACT-Accelerator

The COVID-19 Tool Access Accelerator (ACT) is a new global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. It was created in response to a call from G20 leaders in March 2020 and was launched by the WHO, the European Commission, France and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in April 2020. ACT-Accelerator, but works to accelerate efforts collaboration between existing organizations to end the pandemic. It is based on the experience of the world’s leading health organizations that are tackling the world’s toughest health challenges and, by working together, can unlock new and more ambitious results against COVID-19. Its members share a commitment to ensuring that all people have access to all the tools necessary to defeat COVID-19 and working with unprecedented levels of partnership to achieve it. The ACT-Accelerator has four areas of work: diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines, and the health system connector.

[1] As part of the UN COVID-19 Supply Chain System, a technical consortium for biomedical procurement was established under the coordination of WHO, which included ALIMA, BMGF, IMC, MSF, UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNOPS, USAID and WFP . Approximately US $ 150 million in oxygen-related biomedical products and consumables have been delivered to 149 countries in the last year.

[2] https://www.path.org/programs/market-dynamics/covid-19-oxygen-needs-tracker/

[3] Governments can apply for funding through the World Bank’s COVID-19 emergency health response

[4] Partners joining the task force include Unitaid, Wellcome, WHO (and the broader biomedical consortium coordinated by WHO), UNICEF, The Global Fund, the World Bank, UNOPS, Save the Children, Every Breath Counts (coalition ), CHAI and PATH.

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