By Mary Hearty

Medical oxygen is an essential lifesaving medicine not only for severe COVID-19 cases but also for many other conditions. This shows that investment in medical oxygen goes a long way in healthcare facilities.

When one get a severe COVID-19, the oxygen levels in the body can get low. So, in order to keep a patient oxygen levels at the normal range, doctors have to give medical oxygen.

These remarks were made by Dr Janet Diaz, Project Manager for Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) and Team Leader at World Health Organization (WHO) during Science in 5 interview.

“The cells in the body don’t have enough oxygen to do their normal function in every cell of the body hence requires oxygen for normal functioning. If they are low for a long time, then the cells themselves stop to work well. If they stop to work completely, then the cells can actually die,” Dr Diaz clarified at the WHO’s Science 5 interview.

She added: “So, then what you can see is that the organs including the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys start to malfunction because they all require oxygen, and in very extreme cases can cause death.”

Unfortunately, she noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a shortage of medical oxygen in some countries due to inadequate technology, lack of proper distribution strategy and poor leadership.

“Medical oxygen requires technology. It means being able to take the oxygen from the air and concentrate it into medical oxygen and that requires technology. So, it is an issue in some countries,” Dr Diaz explained.

She added: “Distribution of medical oxygen is another challenge. Make sure that the oxygen that you have supplied can get to the patients.”

Besides, Dr Diaz mentioned that knowing how to use the medical oxygen is another challenge. “This is by keeping the technology maintained, repairing what may be broken, and making sure the piping is functional.”

The WHO has been convening its biomedical consortium partners since the beginning of the pandemic. To date, it has provided over 60 million dollars worth of medical equipment, including oxygen related devices to 122 countries. With several agencies involved, the number has increased to 226 million supplying to over 148 countries.

Moreover, Dr Diaz stated that WHO has led in the technical advice and technical support to countries to make their own assessments of their oxygen systems in their country. This is because the way to make investments in improving oxygen systems is that countries take the leadership, know where their gaps are.

She disclosed that WHO would like to get more investments into medical oxygen. This therefore calls for up-scale plans for funding and not just getting funded for COVID-19, but things that are maintained and sustained after the pandemic to strengthen the health system in general.