WHO rings alarm bell over oxygen shortages in poor countries

Access to oxygen has always been difficult for some countries.
Access to oxygen has always been difficult for some countries.PHOTO: NYTIMES

GENEVA (NYTIMES) - The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday (Feb 25) warned that as many as 20 poor countries were in urgent need of oxygen, as more than 500,000 Covid-19 patients in low- and middle-income countries around the world need an oxygen treatment each day.

Access to oxygen has always been difficult for some countries, and the pandemic has exacerbated the problem, leading to deaths that might have been avoided, the global health organisation said.

In Mexico, hospitals have been so overrun that virus patients have been dying in their homes, gasping for air because there are not enough oxygen tanks to meet the need.

In Egypt, patients died last month at a hospital because of an interruption in oxygen supplies.

Last month in the northern Brazilian state of Amazonas, patients died of asphyxiation because hospitals ran out of oxygen amid a sharp rise in critically ill patients.

The director of the country's health regulatory agency, Dr Alex Machado Campos, called the oxygen shortage the "saddest and most outrageous expression of the government's abject failure at all levels."

The WHO created an emergency task force to address the shortages. The group identified countries that were in immediate need, including Afghanistan, Malawi and Nigeria, and said it would cost US$90 million (S$119.31 million) to address the most urgent needs.

The task force estimates it will cost US$1.6 billion over the next 12 months to address the global oxygen shortages in the short run.

"Many of the countries seeing this demand struggled before the pandemic to meet their daily oxygen needs," said Dr Philippe Duneton, the executive director of Unitaid, a Geneva-based global health agency that pledged to help fund the emergency response.

"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.