PAHO guidelines help countries improve oxygen use, drawing on lessons from COVID-19 pandemic

Oxygen tanks at a hospital

Washington, D.C., March 14, 2022 (PAHO) - The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has issued guidelines to improve oxygen use in health care facilities, many of which have faced shortages of this vital gas used in the treatment of respiratory conditions resulting from COVID-19.

The guidelines detail the changes needed to expand capacities in hospitals or health centers to strengthen the rational use of oxygen, including engineering, administrative and clinical management facets.

The sudden increase in cases and hospitalizations during the pandemic led some health facilities to realize that, in addition to shortages of oxygen itself, many lacked adequate equipment and human resources with the necessary expertise to efficiently manage this medical gas.  

PAHO sent experts to assess the situation in various hospitals in the region and understand areas that could be improved in oxygen storage, distribution, and administration.

The PAHO Technical Group on Oxygen found that, in some facilities, factors such as leaks in storage and distribution systems, incorrect pressure levels and ill-adjusted flowmeters and disconnections were impacting efficient use.

In response, PAHO developed a set of technical guidelines to rapidly expand the capabilities of health services, especially in the face of potential shortages.

The guidelines detail ways to enhance rational oxygen use, ensuring patients receive it according to clinical needs, in adequate doses, and for the necessary time and at a lowest possible cost for them and their community.

The publication “Good practices in the rational and effective use of oxygen” provides advice on dosage, equipment maintenance, calibration, and pressure control to avoid wastage in storage and distribution services, among others.

It also reminds facilities of other key oxygen management aspects, such as ensuring the availability of electrical energy and knowledge about the variety of specific systems used in hospitals.

In addition to the guide, available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, PAHO prepared interactive infographics with 10 videos providing key information to promote the sustainable use of medical oxygen.