Geneva, 24 May, 2023 – Oxygen, a life-saving medicine to treat acute respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 and pneumonia, is essential for surgery, trauma, emergency and critical care, and treating older persons, pregnant women and newborns. Medical oxygen is also proving to be a critical tool in pandemic preparedness as the world braces itself for potential future outbreaks of respiratory diseases.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which left many patients literally gasping for air, exacerbated chronic shortages of medical oxygen in low- and middle-income countries, leading to many preventable deaths and straining the already fragile health systems.
Even before COVID-19 swept across the world, nine in ten hospitals in low- and middle-income countries were unable to provide oxygen therapy, resulting in as many as 800,000 preventable deaths each year.
Against this backdrop, the Oxygen Emergency Taskforce of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) was launched in February 2021 to coordinate the response of multilateral agencies and mobilize grant financing to help low and middle-income countries deal with acute oxygen shortages.
As WHO declares an end to COVID-19 as a global health emergency, a new Global Oxygen Alliance (GO2AL) is launched by global health partners to continue the essential work of the ACT-A Oxygen Emergency Taskforce, which raised more than US$1 billion to boost access to medical oxygen, including financing to expand production, lower the price of oxygen and provide technical support to governments. Taskforce achievements include negotiating ground-breaking agreements with the world’s two largest medical oxygen suppliers, drawing up plans to increase regional production of oxygen in low- and middle-income countries, and helping more than 100 countries to upgrade their treatment facilities.
GO2AL is designed to provide sustained support for low- and middle-income countries to fill yawning gaps in the availability and supply of medical oxygen. A core objective of GO2AL is to support countries with technical cooperation, financial solutions, capacity building, and demand-generation, to ensure that investments in oxygen systems made during the COVID-19 crisis are sustained. GO2AL will also engage in political advocacy and give a voice to those making oxygen systems work on the ground and those who need it.
“The case for scaling up oxygen therapy is overwhelming,” said Unitaid’s Executive Director Philippe Duneton. “More than one million people die each year from hypoxemia, or low blood oxygen, caused by conditions other than COVID-19, such as pneumonia, the leading cause of death among children under five. This is unacceptable and cannot go on.”
Access to medical oxygen also supports treatment of severe malaria, advanced HIV disease, and tuberculosis. Full access to oxygen, as well as pulse oximeters—portable devices that estimates the oxygen saturation of patient’s blood —could reduce mortality from all causes among hospitalized children by as much as 40 percent.
“Access to medical oxygen and respiratory care is a key component of a resilient and sustainable health system and a critical element of pandemic preparedness,” said Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund. “Our renewed alliance with global health partners will help ensure that high-quality medical oxygen services are accessible and affordable to all in low- and middle-income countries. Sustained investments in oxygen delivery systems will save lives now and build surge capacity against future threats.”
GO2AL is also closely collaborating with the Lancet Global Health Commission on Medical Oxygen Security, launched in September 2022 to address major gaps in oxygen research, mobilise a broad coalition to accelerate delivery of medical oxygen and reduce mortality and morbidity globally.
“Affected communities welcome the Global Oxygen Alliance initiative. Through this platform we are confident that access to medical oxygen will be treated with the urgency it deserves,” said Maureen Murenga, Executive Director, Lean On Me Foundation and Communities Constituency, GO2AL. “And that there will be global solidarity and political commitment embracing recent innovation to ensure that, regardless of anyone’s geographical location or economic status, we are able to access the much-needed life commodity. We have the opportunity to save the millions of lives lost each year from hypoxemia.”
GO2AL was established in April 2023 with Unitaid and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as Co-Chairs, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) as Vice-Chairs, and the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and Unitaid sharing the secretariat.
Members of the ACT-A Oxygen Emergency Task Force have chosen to join GO2AL, including: Access to Medicine Foundation; Africa CDC; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Clinton Health Access Initiative; The Every Beath Counts Coalition; The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; PAHO; PATH; Save the Children; UNICEF; Unitaid; UNOPS; USAID; WHO; and the World Bank. New members, including representation from low- and middle-income countries, civil society and communities, are being invited as GO2AL strives to build a stronger and a more diverse and inclusive membership.
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Notes to editors:
Unitaid is a global health agency engaged in finding innovative solutions to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases more quickly, affordably, and effectively, in low- and middle-income countries. Its work includes funding initiatives to address major diseases such as HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, cervical cancer, hepatitis C and other priority health conditions affecting women and children. Unitaid is now applying its expertise to address challenges in advancing new therapies and diagnostics for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, building on its leadership role in the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. Unitaid is hosted by the World Health Organization.
The Global Fund is a worldwide partnership to defeat HIV, TB and malaria and ensure a healthier, safer, more equitable future for all. We raise and invest more than US$4 billion a year to fight the deadliest infectious diseases, challenge the injustice which fuels them and strengthen health systems in more than 100 of the hardest hit countries. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have invested an additional US$5 billion to fight the new pandemic and reinforce systems for health. We unite world leaders, communities, civil society, health workers and the private sector to find solutions that have the most impact, and we take them to scale worldwide. Since 2002, the Global Fund partnership has saved 50 million lives.
Africa CDC is a continental autonomous health agency of the African Union (AU) established to support public health initiatives of AU Member States and strengthen the capacity of public health institutions to detect, prevent, control and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats. Africa CDC serves Member States through the AU New Public Health Order which calls for action-oriented respectful partnership as one its core pillars.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is the specialized international health agency for the Americas, and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World health Organization. It works with countries throughout the region to improve and protect people’s health. PAHO engages in technical cooperation with its member countries to fight communicable and noncommunicable diseases and their causes, to strengthen health systems, and to respond to emergencies and disasters. It has 35 Member States and four Associate Members in the region. Under their leadership, PAHO sets regional health priorities and mobilizes action to address health problems that respect no borders and that, in many cases, jeopardize the sustainability of health systems. From its Washington, D.C., headquarters, 27 country offices and three specialized centers in the region, PAHO promotes evidence-based decision-making to improve and promote health as a driver of sustainable development. Additional info: www.paho.org/en/who-we-are
UNICEF works in the world’s toughest places to reach the most disadvantaged children and adolescents – and to protect the rights of every child, everywhere. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we do whatever it takes to help children survive, thrive and fulfill their potential, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines, we support child health and nutrition, safe water and sanitation, quality education and skill building, HIV prevention and treatment for mothers and babies, and the protection of children and adolescents from violence and exploitation.Before, during and after humanitarian emergencies, UNICEF is on the ground, bringing lifesaving help and hope to children and families. Non-political and impartial, we are never neutral when it comes to defending children’s rights and safeguarding their lives and futures. Additional information: www.unicef.org/what-we-do
The World Health Organization provides global leadership in public health within the United Nations system. Founded in 1948, WHO works with 194 Member States across six regions, to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable. Our goal for 2019-2023 is to ensure that a billion more people have universal health coverage, to protect a billion more people from health emergencies, and provide a further billion people with better health and well-being. For updates on COVID-19 and public health advice to protect yourself from coronavirus, visit www.who.int. Additional information on WHO’s work on oxygen: www.who.int/health-topics/oxygen.
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