Our Oxygen Work

Our Oxygen Work

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed an essential yet long-neglected element of health system planning: access to medical oxygen. Medical oxygen is life-saving for patients struggling to breathe. The need for oxygen globally has surged during the pandemic due to respiratory distress caused by the virus. Around one in five people suffering from COVID-19 require oxygen therapy. In low and middle-income countries (LMICs), this need is hard to meet. More than 500,000 COVID-19 patients in these countries need oxygen every day – yet half of all hospitals in LMICs lack reliable access to medical oxygen, leading to countless patient deaths. 

For countries facing conflict and protracted humanitarian crises – where health systems are often weak or fractured, and barriers to accessing healthcare can be even greater – the situation is even more tenuous. In many parts of Syria, COVID patients have had to purchase their own oxygen concentrators and ventilators to receive treatment – an insurmountable barrier in a country facing conflict, where eight out of ten people live in poverty. In Yemen, isolation centers have run out of oxygen canisters, with checkpoints and broken road systems after 5 years of war making a consistent supply unrealistic. In Darfur, Sudan, there is currently not even one oxygen generator or filling station, putting the population of 9 million at risk of lacking any consistent medical oxygen. In these areas and beyond, NGOs are stepping in to fill the gaps that health systems aren’t equipped to.

Our Oxygen Programs

In response to the ongoing and immense need for medical oxygen, MedGlobal has stepped up to develop far-reaching programs to help patients breathe and survive.

Building Health Infrastructure

Investing in health infrastructure – particularly in fragile states, countries facing conflict, and low-resource settings – is a core component of MedGlobal’s mission to ensure sustained, reliable access to healthcare for vulnerable communities. MedGlobal has begun building industrial oxygen generators and filling stations, as well as oxygen lines, to provide a sustainable supply of oxygen to local health facilities, clinics, ambulances, and quarantine centers. In northwest Syria, MedGlobal has built two critical oxygen generator stations along with our partners Rahma Worldwide and Violet Organization, which together will cover the oxygen needs of over 1 million people. In Sudan, MedGlobal is partnering with the Sudanese American Physician Association (SAPA) to build a generator and filling station at Nyala Teaching Hospital in South Darfur. This oxygen generator will be the first in the entire Darfur region and will improve healthcare access and capacity in one of Sudan’s most underserved areas. In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, MedGlobal built the first central oxygen line at the Ukhia Upazila Health Complex in collaboration with local partners. This will ensure oxygen access to more members of the community. These programs work to meet the immediate needs of populations in crisis, as well as support community needs in the long-run through sustainable health infrastructure.

MedGlobal is working to build the first oxygen generator in all of Darfur, Sudan. I am from Darfur, and I cannot even describe the impact this will have on tens of thousands of people.

Abdelsamad Abdalla Ahmed, MedGlobal's Sudan Program Manager

Delivering Critical Assistance

As part of MedGlobal’s work providing healthcare and building local capacity, we distribute critical health supplies and equipment to help patients breathe in Bangladesh, Colombia, Ecuador, Lebanon, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. In each country, we’ve worked with local NGOs and health agencies to identify the critical unmet needs specific to the context. MedGlobal has provided oxygen cylinders to numerous health facilities, including 140 in Yemen where only half of all hospitals are fully functioning and the COVID-19 mortality rate is over five times the global average. MedGlobal has distributed more than 200 oxygen concentrators and 100 CPAP and BIPAP machines, which are non-invasive ventilators, to help people who are suffering from severe COVID-19 symptoms breathe. In addition, we’ve supported health facilities with ventilators, pulse oximeters, oxygen regulators, and numerous other critical equipment based on needs assessments. 

Operation Breathe: A Model Program in Syria

As part of our overall COVID-19 response, MedGlobal launched ‘Operation Breathe’ in Syria to address multiple aspects of the pandemic and reduce mortality. In Syria, nearly 10 years of conflict has devastated the health system, and over 70% of health workers have fled the country. The true scope of the COVID-19 outbreak is unknown due to limited testing capacity, underreporting, lack of access to healthcare, and more. Hospitals in many areas have been completely overwhelmed, and local doctors describe being forced to turn COVID-19 patients away. Operation Breathe is a model program that centers around health worker protection, meeting immediate and long-term needs, and providing multiple treatment options to increase accessibility of care. This program includes five key components: protecting health workers through provision of PPE, training doctors and nurses in clinical management of COVID-19 patients in emergency settings, building industrial oxygen generator stations to cover the oxygen needs of over 1 million people, building capacity of health facilities to treat COVID-19 patients by providing the most critically needed supplies, and creating comprehensive at-home treatment options in areas where health facility care is inaccessible or unrealistic. Read more about Operation Breathe.

Thank you to our partners:

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Oxygen Tracker

About the Tracker

The COVID-19 Oxygen Needs Tracker is an advocacy tool intended to help elevate the urgency of investing in access to reliable oxygen delivery systems to meet the needs of COVID-19 in LMICs. It was developed by the COVID-19 Respiratory Care Response Coordination partnership, consisting of PATH, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), and the Every Breath Counts coalition (EBC). The tracker estimates the daily oxygen need based on COVID-19 cases reported by countries and does not reflect the oxygen needs for non-COVID-19 patients. This resource, therefore, underestimates the total oxygen needs of health systems in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and is not intended to be used for planning or procurement purposes.

Assumptions

The data used to calculate the daily oxygen need across LMICs is pulled from the World Health Organization (WHO) Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. Using the WHO calculation methods, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is adjusted for the percentage of severe and critical cases requiring oxygen and the amount of oxygen they require across 7 days (severe cases) or 14 days (critical cases). The final calculation in cubic meters of oxygen is divided by seven cubic meters (the size of a large oxygen cylinder) to give the number of cylinders required to meet this need. Estimates are provided for all LMICs as defined by the World Bank, including low-income, lower-middle-income, and upper-middle-income countries. As these estimates reflect only COVID-19 cases confirmed by testing, and given the limited testing in most LMICs, they underestimate the oxygen need in these countries.

As part of our overall COVID-19 response, MedGlobal launched ‘Operation Breathe’ in Syria to address multiple aspects of the pandemic and reduce mortality. In Syria, nearly 10 years of conflict has devastated the health system, and over 70% of health workers have fled the country. The true scope of the COVID-19 outbreak is unknown due to limited testing capacity, underreporting, lack of access to healthcare, and more. Hospitals in many areas have been completely overwhelmed, and local doctors describe being forced to turn COVID-19 patients away. 

Operation Breathe is a model program that centers around health worker protection, meeting immediate and long-term needs, and providing in-clinic and at-home treatment options to increase accessibility of care. This program includes five key components:

Protecting health workers.

A centerpoint of Operation Breathe and MedGlobal’s work at large has been providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare providers. PPE is critical in protecting healthcare providers as they treat others, and allows them to mitigate risk. We have so far provided over 58,000 PPE directly to healthcare providers in northwest Syria, as well as to health facilities and quarantine centers. According to the Idlib Health Directorate, there are only 1.4 physicians per 10,000 people in northwest Syria, compared to the world average of 16 per 10,000 people. The safety of each health worker is especially critical for the vulnerable communities they serve in this region.

My hospital in Chicago has more ventilators and ICU beds than the whole northwest region of Syria.

Dr. Zaher Sahloul, MedGlobal President

Training doctors, nurses, and health providers.

Based on the local needs, MedGlobal launched a training on management of COVID-19 and its complications through the Syrian Board of Medical Specialties, a training on principles of disaster management (prepare, conserve, replace, re-use, reallocate), and a telehealth program to provide consultation to Syrian healthcare providers on specific cases.

Developing sustainable health infrastructure for long-term oxygen availability.

In northwest Syria, MedGlobal worked with partners Rahma Relief and Violet Organization to build two industrial oxygen generator stations. One is located in Darkoush, Idlib, and estimated to serve between 500,000-750,000 people. The other is in Al-Dana, Idlib, and will cover the needs of approximately 400,000 people. Both provide oxygen to nearby hospitals designated as COVID-19 treatment hospitals, as well as local clinics, quarantine centers, and ambulances.  Together, they cover the oxygen needs of about 1 million people, or approximately 20% of the population of northwest Syria. 

Idlib, Syria. Oxygen Generator Installation. Video footage from Rahma Worldwide.

Idlib, Syria. Oxygen Generator Installation. Video footage from Rahma Worldwide.

Building health facility capacity to treat patients with medical oxygen.

MedGlobal coordinated with local hospitals, health facilities, and quarantine centers to provide the most critically needed supplies based on their specific needs – with a specific focus on oxygen therapy. We provided health facilities with CPAP and BIPAP machines, or non-invasive ventilators; ventilators that can function as life-support machines; pulse oximeters to measure oxygen level in the blood in a non-invasive way; and bag valve masks, to provide pressure ventilation to patients who are not breathing adequately.

Creating at-home treatment options.

In many parts of Syria, health facility care for COVID-19 is inaccessible or unrealistic. Based on need, we worked with trusted local NGOs, nonprofit hospitals, and nursing homes across seven governorates to create comprehensive at-home treatment options in areas where health facility care is inaccessible or unrealistic. We provided oxygen directly for at-home treatment through more than 300 oxygen concentrators and pulse oximeters – our partners give an oxygen concentrator and pulse oximeter to a patient in need for at-home treatment for free, and then the supplies are returned to the NGO or facility following their use and provided to future patients in need.