Landmark oxygen resolution adopted by WHO Member States

May 26, 2023 by PATH

Resolution urges action to sustain gains and drive progress toward reliable and sustained oxygen access for all

PATH applauds the historic adoption of the World Health Organization (WHO) resolution on increasing access to medical oxygen during the 76th World Health Assembly (WHA), as part of the discussion on reorienting health systems to primary health care as a resilient foundation for universal health coverage—a major milestone to sustain gains and drive progress toward equitable oxygen access across all populations, communities, and countries.

The draft decision was submitted by the government of Uganda and cosponsored by the governments of Australia, Bangladesh, the Central African Republic, the European Union and its 27 member states, Kenya, and Turkey. A number of other countries—including Botswana, Brazil, Egypt, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Mozambique, Namibia, Peru, Rwanda, South Africa, and the United States of America—further stated their support for the resolution during the WHO Executive Board meeting in February 2023, where the decision was made to recommend the resolution for adoption at WHA.

Medical oxygen is essential for the treatment of hypoxemia across many diseases and medical conditions, and throughout the life course. Yet, reliable access has beeno a long-neglected element of health systems planning. An uninterrupted supply of medical oxygen at hospitals in low- and middle-income countries remains woefully inconsistent or lacking entirely—a critical gap that was brought to light during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

As countries now look to translate pandemic investments into sustained respiratory care services, it will require continued coordinated efforts across financing, health system and device infrastructure, operations and maintenance, clinical training, data systems, policy design, and advocacy areas.

“At the height of the pandemic, globally, we estimated almost 50 million cubic meters (or 7 million cylinders) of oxygen needed to treat COVID-19 patients, with a price tag of US$10 billion to finance that need annually,” said Lisa Smith, Director of Access to Medical Devices Portfolio, PATH. “Rapid deployment of oxygen supplies and financing to support low- and middle-income countries in their pandemic response via the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator Oxygen Emergency Taskforce was unprecedented in scale and speed.

“Today, the urgency behind sustaining investment in oxygen production and supply and continued stakeholder focus on alignment and coordination cannot be understated. We must build on the progress made during the pandemic and invest in sustainable, coordinated systems that are resilient to emergent threats and responsive to communities.”

The resolution urges countries to undertake 20 high-impact actions to ensure equitable oxygen provision across all facility levels, populations, and communities, including development of costed national plans and regulations; investment in qualified staffing, maintenance, and monitoring systems; and increased domestic financing and advocacy.

“The adoption of this landmark oxygen resolution provides a foundation for all countries to propel action toward universal oxygen access, and PATH is eager to support partners across the public and private sectors as they navigate this important development,” said Smith.

PATH is leading a US$23.1 million investment to increase equitable access to high-quality respiratory care services at all levels of the health care system via its Strengthening Oxygen Utilization and Respiratory Care Ecosystems (SOURCE) project, which is implemented across Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Senegal, Tanzania, Vietnam, and Zambia. The project supports the efforts led by the ten countries to reinforce oxygen and respiratory care systems as necessary components of national health care systems, pandemic preparedness, and global health architecture—in direct alignment with the high-impact action urged by the resolution.

PATH applauds the adoption of the resolution and urges WHO and all WHO Member States to ensure continued focus on oxygen access as part of the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage in September 2023.