The unequal distribution of oxygen around the world is one of the scandals of this pandemic

People are dying whose lives could have been saved, if they had had the fortune to be treated in a hospital in Europe or North America, write Philippe Duneton and Leith Greenslade

<p>A Covid patient is treated with oxygen at a hospital in Rajasthan, India</p>

A Covid patient is treated with oxygen at a hospital in Rajasthan, India

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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