More than half a million people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) currently need 1.1 million cylinders of oxygen per day for Covid-19 treatment, with 25 countries currently reporting surges in demand.
The majority of the 25 countries are in Africa, read a press release.
Oxygen supply was constrained prior to Covid-19 and has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, affordable and sustainable access to oxygen has been a growing challenge in LMICs.
Covid-19 has placed huge pressure on health systems, with hospitals in many LMICs running out of oxygen. This has resulted in preventable deaths and the families of hospitalised patients paying a premium for scarce oxygen supplies.
Oxygen is an essential medicine, and despite being vital for the effective treatment of hospitalised Covid-19 patients, access in LMICs is limited due to cost, infrastructure and logistical barriers.
Health facilities often cannot access the oxygen they require, resulting in the unnecessary loss of lives.
Recognising the central importance of a sustainable oxygen supply, alongside therapeutic products such as dexamethasone, for the treatment of Covid-19, the Access to Covid Tools (ACT) Accelerator Therapeutics pillar – co-led by Unitaid and Wellcome – took up a new role to coordinate and advocate for the increased supply of oxygen.
It, in partnership with a World Health Organization (WHO)-led consortium, announced the launch of a Covid-19 oxygen emergency taskforce on 25 February.
Dr Philippe Duneton, executive director of Unitaid, said, "This is a global emergency that needs a truly global response, both from international organisations and donors. Many of the countries seeing this demand struggled before the pandemic to meet their daily oxygen needs.
"Now it is 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 worst-affected countries as quickly as possible," he added.
The taskforce has determined an immediate funding need of $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 based on assessments coordinated by the WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, in order to match in-country need with potential financing, such as through the World Bank and the Global Fund.
Unitaid and Wellcome will make an immediate contribution of up to $20 million in total for the emergency response.
The urgent, short-term requirements of additional countries will be measured and cost in the coming weeks, with the overall funding needs over the next 12 months estimated by ACT-Accelerator to be $1.6 billion – a figure that will be regularly reviewed by the taskforce.
Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said, "Oxygen is life-saving and it is imperative to move faster to scale-up holistically with patient-centred, end-to-end solutions that improve clinical outcomes."
"The WHO has been working through the Biomedical Consortium to bring the technical, clinical and procurement partners together with about $80 million of biomedical equipment procured for LMICs. The oxygen taskforce will help drive oxygen scale-up through further innovation, financing and capacitation," he added.