#Covid-19: Oxygen Emergency Taskforce launched as Africa struggles with shortage

#Covid-19:  Oxygen Emergency Taskforce launched as Africa struggles with shortagePhoto by Samuel Ramos on Unsplash

As the demand for oxygen soars across the world during the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organisation says there is a growing shortage in Africa and Latin America.

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Access to oxygen is a growing challenge in low- and middle-income countries, with more than than half a million Covid-19 patients needing oxygen treatment every day.

Covid-19 has put huge pressure on health systems, particularly in developing countries. Reports from Nigeria, for instance, show that some hospitals are running out of oxygen, resulting in preventable deaths.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa has weighed in on the need to share more technology and to pool resources. Speaking during the virtual launch of Global Citizen’s Recover Better Together Campaign, he also called on world leaders to support the COVAX facility to ensure rapid and equitable access to the Covid-19 vaccines for all countries.

“To fight the pandemic, we need to pool resources, capabilities, knowledge and intellectual property. That is why we continue to call on world leaders to support the COVAX facility to ensure rapid and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for all countries. Another important step is to enable the transfer of medical technology for the duration of the pandemic,” said Ramaphosa.

His comments underscore shortages in medical technology in Africa. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that there are fewer than 2,000 working ventilators in public hospitals across 41 African countries. In comparison, the United States has more than 170,000 ventilators.

Oxygen for the Global South

Oxygen is an essential medicine and the number of oxygen concentrators in sub-Saharan Africa grew from two thousand to over six thousand since March 2020, with the majority of these in South Africa.

The WHO said the launch of the Covid Tools Accelerator Therapeutics pillar co-led by Unitaid and Wellcome has ensured better access to oxygen. On the 25 February the WHO also launched the Covid-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce.

Unitaid Executive Director Dr Philippe Duneton said the Taskforce now needs an additional $90 million US to address delivery of the all-important gas in up to 20 countries including Malawi, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

This is a global emergency that needs a truly global response, both from international organisations and donors. Many of the countries seeing this demand struggled before the pandemic to meet their daily oxygen needs,” said Duneton.

“Now it’s more vital than ever that we come together to build on the work that has already been done, with a firm commitment to helping the worst-affected countries as quickly as possible,” he said.

The number of cylinders needed per day across the developing world is around 1.1 million according to WHO data with the biggest surge in demand reported in Africa.

Global coordination

World Health Organization (WHO), Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that several urgent actions need to be taken as he believes that the only way to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic is through the universal access of vaccines.

“Covid-19 has threatened the lives and livelihoods of everyone on the planet. To respond, we must take several urgent actions. The only way that we will be able to recover better, together is by defeating the virus everywhere through universal access of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics,” said Ghebreyesus.

He further said: “At the same time, we must mobilise response and recovery aid to address the pandemics significant socio-economic consequences, such as disruptions to food and education systems. I commend Global Citizen for raising awareness on these issues and playing an important role in promoting global solidarity to counter the pandemic.”

The Recover Better Together Campaign is an initiative organised by the Global Citizen in partnership with the European Commission and the WHO. The campaign seeks to create momentum for global Covid-19 pandemic recovery and a return to the implementation of global goals.

“For the past 10 years, Global Citizen has been a leading voice for the involvement of governments, world leaders, philanthropists, activists, artists and the citizens of the world in ending extreme poverty,” said Ramaphosa.

“When the coronavirus pandemic struck last year, Global Citizen responded swiftly, hosting the ‘One World: Together at Home’ benefit concert in support of healthcare workers on the frontline. The substantial pledges made for coronavirus relief at this event enabled NGOs around the world to help those most vulnerable,” Ramaphosa added.—Health-e News