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News - published on 20 Oct 2020

Bridging the gap in access to oxygen: Foundation co-hosts roundtable that identifies 10 key actions

On 25 September 2020, the Access to Medicine Foundation and the Every Breath Counts Coalition co-hosted a first-of-its-kind virtual roundtable with industry, investors, and global health agencies to explore opportunities to increase access to medical oxygen in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Oxygen is critical in the treatment of pneumonia, which claims the lives of more than 672,000 children under 5 every year. Further, one in five COVID-19 patients will each need access to oxygen in vast quantities.

The issue of access to medical oxygen is urgent and chronic. Despite medical oxygen being listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an “essential medicine”, wide gaps in access remain in healthcare systems in most low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), including issues of affordability and sufficient supply.

To close these gaps, efforts must be coordinated among numerous actors. Closing access to oxygen gaps will not only reduce the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic, but also help to prevent early deaths from many other causes. 

"COVID-19 has revealed that oxygen is an essential medicine in name only for the majority of patients who need it in low and middle-income countries. That’s why the Every Breath Counts Coalition is joining forces with the Access to Medicine Foundation to engage companies, corporate investors and global health agencies to work closely together to increase access to oxygen. These efforts will also reduce deaths from the many other conditions (e.g., neonatal, childhood pneumonia, childbirth, communicable and non-communicable diseases, and injuries) where oxygen can mean the difference between life and death."

Leith Greensdale

Coordinator, Every Breath Counts Coalition

First roundtable builds trust 
The main objective of the roundtable was to share perspectives of the different actors and begin the process of building trust. Many have not engaged in shared value partnerships on this issue before. The Access to Medicine Foundation brought its experience of engaging directly with pharmaceutical companies on access to medicine issues, to foster an understanding of how to identify and develop solutions.

The session focused on the work that medical oxygen producers including multinational and local players, investors and global health agencies are already doing to increase access to oxygen, in the context of COVID-19 and the broader achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This first roundtable led to a list of ten ideas for how to work together to close oxygen gaps in LMICs during COVID-19 and beyond. Working groups have also been formed between participants to focus on specific gaps. A follow-up meeting is planned to review their progress.

The Access to Medical Oxygen roundtable brought together representatives from nine medical gas companies, five corporate investors, and eight global health agencies to present their perspective on the access to medical oxygen challenge.

“Nomura Asset Management was pleased to play a role in helping to identify key opportunities in the first-of-its-kind, multi-stakeholder effort convened by the Access to Medicine Foundation and Every Breath Counts Coalition for increasing access to medical oxygen in low- and middle- income countries. The Foundation’s model of company engagement proved successful in bringing major gas companies to the table to discuss tangible solutions for this critical issue now and in the future, particularly in light of COVID-19 and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 3.”

Alex Rowe

Nomura Asset Management

10 actions
Together, the participants identified 10 key action items required to improve access to medical oxygen.

1.  Increase LMIC oxygen demand

2. Signal corporate boards

3. Develop corporate KPIs

4. Quantify oxygen gaps

5. Finance oxygen infrastructure

6. Finance oxygen workforce

7. Stimulate oxygen innovation

8. Strike oxygen partnerships

9. Advocate for oxygen

10. Keep oxygen stakeholders engaged

Roundtable focused on solutions
The roundtable follows a unique model of engagement developed by the Access to Medicine Foundation through its 15+ years working to stimulate and guide the pharmaceutical industry to do more for people living in low- and middle-income countries. The model combines engagement with industry and the influence of many other global health stakeholders to foster partnerships on access issues. 

"Lack of access to medical oxygen has been an issue for years, particularly for children with pneumonia. The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing the life-saving power of oxygen to greater attention. It is a critical moment to combine the Foundation's network and model for spurring change with the mandate and experience of the Every Breath Counts coalition, and create a unique opportunity for discussion." Jayasree K. Iyer, Executive Director, Access to Medicine Foundation 

Addressing access to medical oxygen is a key pillar of the work of the Every Breath Counts Coalition. The Coalition supports LMICs to reduce deaths from pneumonia, especially among children and including from COVID-19. The Coalition is committed to engaging the world’s leading suppliers of medical oxygen in the access to oxygen agenda in the context of COVID-19 and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. It is a public-private partnership representing United Nations and multilateral health agencies, donor governments and foundations, companies, non-government organisations (NGOs) and academic institutions.

The roundtable was hosted under the Chatham House Rule and the meeting report is available to download here, including a list of participating organisations, details on each key action and examples of current practices that may need scaling up.

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