WHO warns of oxygen shortages to combat COVID-19

March 3, 2021

Since the start of the pandemic, affordable and sustainable access to oxygen has been a growing challenge in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), with more than half a million COVID-19 patients in those countries who need oxygen treatment every day, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a news release.

As a result, the Access to COVID Tools Accelerator Therapeutics pillar (co-led by Unitaid and Wellcome), in partnership with a WHO-led consortium, has announced the launch of a COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce.

“COVID-19 has put huge pressure on health systems, with hospitals in many LMICs running out of oxygen, resulting in preventable deaths and families of hospitalized patients paying a premium for scarce oxygen supplies,” the WHO said. “Oxygen is an essential medicine, and despite being vital for the effective treatment of hospitalized 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.”

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. Unitaid and Wellcome will make an immediate contribution of up to $20 million in total for the emergency response.

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