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A lack of medical oxygen hinders the fight against the coronavirus in poor countries

A limited supply of medical oxygen is hindering poorer countries’ efforts to fight COVID-19. In wealthier countries in Europe and North America, oxygen is delivered to the beds of coronavirus patients without a concern of it running out. However, in poor countries, oxygen is a scarce resource that many healthcare systems do not have the money for, according to the Associated Press.

“Oxygen is one of the most important interventions, (but) it’s in very short supply,” Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the CDC who now runs Resolve to Save Lives, told the AP.

Oxygen therapy is one of the most vital interventions for COVID-19 patients. COVID-19 affects the lungs and circulatory systems, and many patients need an external oxygen supply to help their immune systems fight the virus. Many COVID patients are at high-risk of developing hypoxia and extremely low blood-oxygen levels, and they rely on medical oxygen to recover.

Poorer countries often do not have enough of a supply of oxygen for patients. Equipment to supply oxygen is expensive, and additionally, it’s difficult to deliver to rural hospitals. Now, the pandemic has created shortages worldwide, and it’s made oxygen even more scarce.

“Oxygen has been missing on the global agenda for decades,” Leith Greenslade, a global health activist, told the AP.

The World Health Organization is aiming to raise $250 million to help deliver oxygen to countries in need. The WHO started looking into supplying oxygen in 2017—not in anticipation of a pandemic, but because oxygen is needed to help treat children with pneumonia. So far, the WHO has purchased 14,000 oxygen concentrators, which filter oxygen from the air, for 120 countries, and the organization hopes to purchase an additional 170,000 concentrators during the final half of 2020. 

Sources: Associated Press, New York Times, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy


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