Breathing life into the fight against pneumonia

Medical oxygen is an essential treatment for many conditions. From lowering maternal and neonatal mortality to treating respiratory conditions and trauma injuries. However, oxygen is unavailable in over 60% facilities in East Africa. For the few facilities with access to oxygen, often it is transported long distances to reach them, making the supply inconsistent and unaffordable.

The impact of oxygen scarcity is especially devastating in the treatment of pneumonia. Globally, the disease claims the lives of almost a million children under 5 each year – that’s 16 percent of all under 5 deaths.

Today marks World Pneumonia Day, which sees the global community come together to raise awareness of this easily preventable and treatable disease. Increasing access to oxygen is a vital component of tackling the world’s leading infectious killer of children.

As part of Safe Surgery 2020, Assist International has been building private-public partnerships to increase access to affordable, reliable oxygen. They have developed a sustainable business model to build oxygen plants and support local entrepreneurs to run the plants – producing and distributing oxygen reliably and affordably for local hospitals. The model drastically cuts oxygen costs for hospitals and increases the volume of oxygen they can access.

After initial set up, the oxygen plant is self-sustaining and becomes profitable. Revenues generated by the oxygen plant pay for staff salaries and maintenance, as well as eventually funding more oxygen plants as the business grows.

Assist International have already rolled out this model in Kenya (Hewa Tele) and Rwanda (Total Oxygen Solutions) with great success. After removing transportation and cost barriers in Rwanda, oxygen consumption at the host hospital increased by 853%, and oxygen consumption at other hospitals increased by 236% on average. We are currently setting up two oxygen plants in Ethiopia in close partnership with the Ministry of Health which will begin operating early next year.

Scaling sustainable models to increase access to oxygen is critical to ending preventable deaths from pneumonia by 2030. If we ensure every hospital has an adequate amount of oxygen, hundreds of thousands of children’s lives will be saved. We are proud to be a part of the movement to tackle to oxygen scarcity, and urge the global community to prioritize increasing oxygen provision this World Pneumonia Day.

Ashley Eberhart