24 May 2023
GENEVA – Oxygen, a lifesaving medicine to treat acute respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 and pneumonia, is essential for surgery, trauma, emergency and critical care, and treating older persons, pregnant women and newborns. Medical oxygen is also proving to be a critical tool in pandemic preparedness as the world braces itself for potential future outbreaks of respiratory diseases.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which left many patients literally gasping for air, exacerbated chronic shortages of medical oxygen in low- and middle-income countries, leading to many preventable deaths and straining the already fragile health systems.
Even before COVID-19 swept across the world, 9 in 10 hospitals in low- and middle-income countries were unable to provide oxygen therapy, resulting in as many as 800,000 preventable deaths each year.
Against this backdrop, the Oxygen Emergency Taskforce of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator) was launched in February 2021 to coordinate the response of multilateral agencies and mobilize grant financing to help low- and middle-income countries deal with acute oxygen shortages.
As WHO declares an end to COVID-19 as a global health emergency, a new Global Oxygen Alliance (GO2AL) is launched by global health partners to continue the essential work of the ACT-A Oxygen Emergency Taskforce, which raised more than US$1 billion to boost access to medical oxygen, including financing to expand production, lower the price of oxygen and provide technical support to governments. Taskforce achievements include negotiating ground-breaking agreements with the world’s two largest medical oxygen suppliers, drawing up plans to increase regional production of oxygen in low- and middle-income countries, and helping more than 100 countries to upgrade their treatment facilities.
GO2AL is designed to provide sustained support for low- and middle-income countries to fill yawning gaps in the availability and supply of medical oxygen. A core objective of GO2AL is to support countries with technical cooperation, financial solutions, capacity building, and demand-generation, to ensure that investments in oxygen systems made during the COVID-19 crisis are sustained. GO2AL will also engage in political advocacy and give a voice to those making oxygen systems work on the ground and those who need it.
“The case for scaling up oxygen therapy is overwhelming,” said Unitaid’s Executive Director Philippe Duneton. “More than 1 million people die each year from hypoxemia, or low blood oxygen, caused by conditions other than COVID-19, such as pneumonia, the leading cause of death among children under 5. This is unacceptable and cannot go on.”
Access to medical oxygen also supports treatment of severe malaria, advanced HIV disease, and tuberculosis. Full access to oxygen, as well as pulse oximeters — portable devices that estimates the oxygen saturation of patient’s blood — could reduce mortality from all causes among hospitalized children by as much as 40%.
“Access to medical oxygen and respiratory care is a key component of a resilient and sustainable health system and a critical element of pandemic preparedness,” said Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund. “Our renewed alliance with global health partners will help ensure that high-quality medical oxygen services are accessible and affordable to all in low- and middle-income countries. Sustained investments in oxygen delivery systems will save lives now and build surge capacity against future threats.”
GO2AL is also closely collaborating with the Lancet Global Health Commission on Medical Oxygen Security, launched in September 2022 to address major gaps in oxygen research, mobilize a broad coalition to accelerate delivery of medical oxygen and reduce mortality and morbidity globally.
“Affected communities welcome the Global Oxygen Alliance initiative. Through this platform we are confident that access to medical oxygen will be treated with the urgency it deserves,” said Maureen Murenga, Executive Director, Lean On Me Foundation and Communities Constituency, GO2AL. “And that there will be global solidarity and political commitment embracing recent innovation to ensure that, regardless of anyone’s geographical location or economic status, we are able to access the much-needed life commodity. We have the opportunity to save the millions of lives lost each year from hypoxemia.”
GO2AL was established in April 2023 with Unitaid and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as Co-Chairs, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) as Vice-Chairs, and the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and Unitaid sharing the secretariat.
Members of the ACT-A Oxygen Emergency Task Force have chosen to join GO2AL, including: Access to Medicine Foundation; Africa CDC; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Clinton Health Access Initiative; The Every Beath Counts Coalition; The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; PAHO; PATH; Save the Children; UNICEF; Unitaid; UNOPS; USAID; WHO; and the World Bank. New members, including representation from low- and middle-income countries, civil society and communities, are being invited as GO2AL strives to build a stronger and a more diverse and inclusive membership.