The COVID-19 pandemic brought the alarming inequity of access to medical oxygen to the fore. But unreliable supply of this lifesaving treatment has been a long-standing issue – particularly in LMICs. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, countries reported unreliable access to medical oxygen, with data shared in a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) showing that 31% of medical facilities in sub-Saharan Africa suffered interruptions in the delivery of oxygen and 25% had no availability at all. While the response to the pandemic, in terms of funding and supply by medical gas companies, has led to progress over the last few years, there is still a significant unmet need for medical oxygen in LMICs. Access needs to remain a priority, with a shift in focus to long-term solutions.
It is against this backdrop that the Access to Medicine Foundation, in partnership with Chatham House, convened a roundtable discussion that brought together representatives, including participants from medical gas companies and global health organisations, to discuss the growing demand for medical oxygen – with a particular focus on liquid medical oxygen (LOX). Based on insights from the roundtable, the Foundation has identified four key opportunities for industry and four key opportunities for global health partners, as outlined below.
“The response to COVID-19 from medical gas companies and partners should lead to concrete ways that will ensure long-term access to medical oxygen for health systems. This roundtable unpacked exactly what is required for action.” – Johann Kolstee, Research Programme Manager, Access to Medicine Foundation.
Long-term access to medical oxygen
During the roundtable, which was held under the Chatham House Rule, participants agreed that collaboration between industry, government and global health organisations helped increase access to medical oxygen during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was essential in saving many lives. The task at hand now is to ensure the sustainable supply of medical oxygen – including LOX – not only to be prepared for a future pandemic, but to maintain reliable, equitable access in LMICs over the long term. Key to this will be continued collaboration in addressing the acute need for medical oxygen and helping to save millions of lives over the long term.
Lack of health system capacity, weak medical oxygen infrastructure and lack of human resources pose persistent challenges in LMICs – and addressing these challenges will require innovative approaches. Participants were able to share best practices, define actions that need to be taken by medical gas companies and other partners, and to identify how best to track progress.
Download the full Meeting SummaryDownload
Key opportunities for medical gas companies:
Expand affordable access to liquid medical oxygen (LOX) in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to enable a better match on different health systems ability to pay;
Integrate access-to-oxygen targets within business strategies, create internal access teams to respond to demand for medical oxygen in LMICs;
Strengthen communication with governments on supply and demand generation challenges and priorities;
Continue pursuing health systems strengthening initiatives.
Key opportunities for global health partners:
Quantify the true amount of medical oxygen needed in each LMIC to treat the range of conditions for which it is needed to reveal the true hidden demand for oxygen;
Institutionalise national oxygen roadmaps and pandemic-time data systems and dashboards;
Ensure sustainable public financing for medical oxygen and continue investments in local health systems strengthening, whilst also ensuring governments are involved in capacity building discussions;
Ensure coordination efforts as ACT-A oxygen taskforce transitions to the Global Oxygen Alliance and continue to ensure long-term access to medical oxygen.
While the roundtable yielded important insights from participants, absence of government representation at the discussion was noted and agreed to be important for future engagement.
The work of the Foundation’s Medical Oxygen Research Programme
Prior to this most recent roundtable, the Access to Medicine Foundation and the Every Breath Counts Coalition co-hosted a series of three virtual roundtables to explore opportunities to increase access to medical oxygen in LMICs. In these meetings — the first of their kind — representatives from medical gas companies, corporate investors and global health agencies came together to share perspectives and build fruitful partnerships to drive change.
The Foundation’s Medical Oxygen Research Programme will continue its work beyond these discussions to mobilise medical gas companies to close the gap in access to medical oxygen. In 2023, the Programme will publish its first report on sustaining access to LOX in LMICs.