It’s difficult to erase from memory the images shared around the world from India’s recent Covid-19 surge – people gasping for breath, dying in crowded hospital corridors, relatives crying, queues that stretch for miles. Much of this death and chaos is the result of a lack of one precious commodity – oxygen.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this was a new problem. But it isn’t. Access to oxygen has been a systemic challenge in low- and middle-income countries for decades, resulting in pneumonia claiming the lives of 2.5 million people every year. Now Covid-19 has turned a dire situation into a crisis from Argentina to India, the Philippines to Ethiopia, Nepal to Brazil.
Oxygen isn’t a new technology, rather an essential medicine designated as such by the World Health Organisation. Unlike vaccines, research and development isn’t required to invent the products – they exist, in the form of bulk liquid supplies, generator plants, concentrators, and more. But despite oxygen – together with steroids such as dexamethasone – being the only proven treatment for Covid-19, it is simply out of reach for millions of people.
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