Ensuring access to oxygen therapy for children in low-resource settings

December 2, 2015 by PATH

Consultation brings together manufacturers, distributors, and international partners focused on improving access to medical devices needed to prevent deaths among young children with pneumonia

On November 5 and 6, PATH staff met with nearly 60 people from around the world to talk about how to make oxygen therapy available to more children in low-resource settings. Increased access to this treatment could prevent many of the more than 900,000 deaths each year among young children with pneumonia.

Attendees at the Seattle consultation represented 21 organizations, including 12 product manufacturers and 7 international partners. The consultation was hosted by PATH and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and was held in the week leading up to World Pneumonia Day, which was November 12.   

The goal of the two-day meeting was to discuss innovative approaches to increasing access to both oxygen concentrators, which can be used to generate a supply of oxygen for medical use, and pulse oximeters, which are used to monitor patients' oxygen levels. The discussion focused on countries with a high burden of child mortality due to pneumonia, including India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of death among young children around the world, accounting for 16 percent of under-five mortality worldwide. Management of hypoxemia, or low blood oxygen saturation, is a critical component of World Health Organization standards and guidelines for treating childhood pneumonia as well as other serious illnesses and conditions affecting newborns, children, and adults. Although oxygen therapy can effectively improve the odds of survival, it is not widely available in many countries.

Oxygen concentrators are a good option for administering oxygen in developing-country settings, especially where oxygen cylinders and piped systems are inappropriate or unavailable. Pulse oximetry should be used in conjunction with oxygen concentrators to identify hypoxemic patients and to ensure safe, efficient use of oxygen. Despite evidence on the importance of oxygen therapy and the existence of suitable technologies, weak health infrastructure in many countries and lack of access to electrical power supplies and trained maintenance personnel continue to limit availability.

At the consultation, PATH and other partners presented information to stakeholders to raise awareness of the need to increase access to oxygen therapy and to describe the potential market opportunity that could result from fulfilling the need. Participants also received updates on PATH's work to ensure that oxygen technologies are well suited for use in low-resource settings. This includes the need for reliability despite frequent power outages and for low maintenance requirements.

PATH was part of a collaboration on a World Health Organization guidance document on technical specifications for oxygen concentrators. The document focuses on recommendations for the appropriate selection, procurement, use, and maintenance of this lifesaving tool. It is a critical resource for government health officials, product developers, and international stakeholders who are interested in improving access to oxygen therapy and reducing global mortality associated with hypoxemia, especially among young children.

For more information about PATH's work to increase access to oxygen therapy for children, please contact Darin Zehrung, program advisor, at dzehrung@path.org.

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