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WHO to launch Covid-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on February 26, 2021

The shortage of oxygen supply has resulted in preventable deaths, says WHO

A World Health Organisation-led consortium has announced the launch of a Covid-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce.

It launched the taskforce as the pandemic has put huge pressure on health systems, with hospitals in many low-and-middle-income countries running out of oxygen, the WHO stated in its official release.

The multilateral organisation noted that the shortage of oxygen supply has resulted in preventable deaths and families of hospitalised patients paying a premium for scarce oxygen supplies.

WHO noted in a statement: “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.”

WHO revealed that to address this issue, the Access to Covid Tools Accelerator Therapeutics pillar (co-led by Unitaid and Wellcome), is taking a new role to coordinate and advocate for increased supply of oxygen.

WHO estimated that more than half-a-million people in LMICs currently need 1.1 million cylinders of oxygen per day, with 25 countries currently reporting surges in demand. This supply was constrained prior to Covid-19 and has been worsened due to the pandemic.

Funds needed

The task force 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.

WHO revealed that the first set of countries has been identified based on assessments coordinated by WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.

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

The taskforce brings together key organisations that are putting efforts to improve access to oxygen. This includes Unitaid, Wellcome, WHO, Unicef, the Global Fund, World Bank, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), PATH, Every Breath Counts Coalition, and Save the Children.

The partners will focus on four key objectives as a part of an emergency response plan: measuring acute and longer-term oxygen needs in LMICs; connecting countries to financing partners for their assessed oxygen requirements; and supporting the procurement and supply of oxygen, along with related products and services.

Published on February 26, 2021

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