The world's largest gas producers should seize the opportunity to reduce long-term inequities in access to medical liquid oxygen in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), according to a report today from the Access to Medicine Foundation.
The Netherlands-based foundation said that, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Air Liquide, Air Products, Linde, Messer, Nippon Sanso Holdings Corp., and SOL Group showed they can mitigate shortages through efforts such as shifting more production capacity from industrial to medical oxygen and transporting oxygen tankers and trailers on chartered aircraft.
But about half of healthcare facilities in poor countries still don't have reliable access to oxygen, leading to preventable deaths. "This is despite the fact that medical oxygen is included in the World Health Organization's Model List of Essential Medicines, meaning it is a product that should be available in every country’s health system," the report said.
"Medical gases are a small part of these companies' business, yet society needs them to ensure this vital lifeline is available both during emergencies and to meet the daily medical oxygen needs of all health systems," Access to Medicine Chief Executive Officer Jayasree Iyer, MD, PhD, said in the report.
Six priority actions
Air Liquide is the only firm with a clear strategy for ensuring access to oxygen in LMICs, the report said. The others haven't identified specific targets but have reported expanding oxygen to more regions and buying equipment to boost oxygen production.
The report identifies six priority actions:
- Prioritize, measure, and report progress on medical liquid oxygen
- Improve affordability for populations and health systems
- Provide a sustainable supply of oxygen
- Foster long-term partnerships to close access gaps
- Support health systems and staff to operate, maintain, and administer medical oxygen systems
- Plan for emergencies
LMIC healthcare facility infrastructures and fragmented supply chains complicate achieving these goals. "However, the gas companies in [the] scope of this report can play a critical role in helping to overcome some of these challenges, in particular by pursuing and formalising long-term partnerships with governments and global health stakeholders," the authors wrote.