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How oxygen matters: Stories of impact across the lifespan

By Market Dynamics

Oxygen is an essential treatment for a range of diseases and across populations. Access to oxygen therapy can be a matter of life or death. Hear from those who have experienced the direct impact of oxygen access firsthand.

Oxygen is an essential medicine and a key treatment for a wide range of conditions, such as obstetric emergencies, premature birth, COVID-19, and pneumonia, that affect all parts of the population. As such, oxygen access is vital to ending preventable deaths among newborns, children, and adults globally.

Oxygen delivery systems require thorough and consistent management within and across facilities—including training, maintenance, data use, and supervision—so that every patient receives the appropriate respiratory care at the right time. Any obstacles in this system can lead to a life-or-death situation.

The stories gathered on this page are a collection of experiences where access to oxygen mattered. They are told through the eyes of patients, parents, clinicians, health care workers, and others. They demonstrate the utility of oxygen therapy across ages, countries, and diseases. Read through these stories—and help us amplify their voices on social media!

Join the conversation and share your story!

Primary hashtag: #OxygenAccess

Secondary hashtags: #EveryBreathCounts, #WorldPneumoniaDay, #InvestInOxygen

Twitter: @PATHTweets, @PATHAdvocacy, @PATHdrugdev

Facebook: @PATHglobalhealth

Nimo's story in Somalia

SOURCE_WPD stories_Nimo

Nimo Abdi Ahmed spent over two days in a difficult labor in her home in El Buur District, Somalia, before she hired a private driver to take her to the nearest hospital, six hours away. When she arrived, she was experiencing intense labor pains, which induced vomiting. The gynecologist performed several checks before determining that the baby was in distress and a normal delivery would be difficult. A C-section was necessary to save the baby’s life. Nimo’s baby—named Ifrah Ali Daahiye—came out not crying and inactive. The doctor performed CPR and put the baby on nasal oxygenation for four days until he could breathe on his own.

“I really appreciated the work done by the medical staff at the hospital for saving and helping me see my first baby alive after that critical condition. I’m so emotional and feeling super happy now. I’m grateful to the organization that has provided the oxygen services at the hospital which is available all the time.”

Nimo and her baby were able to access lifesaving oxygen in Somalia from the scale up of solar-powered oxygen delivery systems. This initiative was led by the World Health Organization's (WHO’s) office in Somalia and the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the innovator Hewatele and Grand Challenges Canada, with facilitation from the WHO Innovation Hub and the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, and engagement from the multilateral agencies of the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All (SDG3 GAP) and its Accelerator on R&D, Access, and Innovation. Learn more.

Elsa's story in Peru

SOURCE_WPD stories_Elsa

Elsa Bernal, 63, was at her home in San Martín de Porres, Lima, Peru, when she fell onto her bed, unable to get up. Her headache, throat pain, and fatigue were becoming more and more unbearable. A community health agent from the USAID and Partners in Health’s COVID-19 Response Program in Peru responded to the emergency. The level of oxygen in Elsa’s blood had decreased—risking the development of hypoxemia. She was eventually diagnosed with COVID-19. The community health agent visited her home multiple times to monitor her vital signs, such as oxygen saturation, heart and respiratory rate, and blood pressure, using a pulse oximeter. Through an innovative COVID-19 chatbot mobile application, he could share Elsa’s health status with the nearby medical team to evaluate and advise on her care. With this personalized support, Elsa made a full recovery.

“I am back, I feel very happy to see my family and my grandchildren again, they have been very difficult days. This is a new chance at life. I appreciate the attention and care of the medical staff who, from the result of the positive test to my recovery, were by my side.

Aminata's story in Senegal

SOURCE_WPD stories_Aminata

Aminata Diallo lives in the village of Cas-cas in the Saint-Louis region of Senegal. She was pregnant with a baby boy when she went into labor. Her delivery became very critical, so she went to the health facility in her village. Despite the heath staff’s best efforts to stabilize her delivery, her baby was born in a state of apparent death. He was immediately put on medical oxygen, and his condition improved.

“I am eternally grateful to the health staff who were able to save his life. We wish oxygen was available in more villages so that we and our children could be well taken care of.”

Aminata and her baby were able to access lifesaving oxygen because of the Access Oxygen project, which is a comprehensive response to the need for medical oxygen in primary health facilities in low- and middle-income countries. The project offers both provision of a set of equipment necessary for oxygen therapy as well as services like maintenance and training. Learn more.

Barun's story from Nepal

SOURCE_WPD stories_Barun

Barun Kumar Rauniyar, a biomedical engineer from Nepal, has an older brother Arun who started to have breathing issues from COVID-19 pneumonia. Due to increased demand, Arun was turned away from seven hospitals while his condition worsened—until he was finally admitted to Bir Hospital.

Barun stayed with his brother in the COVID-19 ward. He found the oxygen flowmeter attached to his brother’s bed was leaking. The one available nurse was not able to fix it and could not reach the maintenance staff. Barun was able to fix the leakage by adjusting the knob and volts carefully with his bare hands and continued to monitor the oxygen equipment to ensure it remained functional. Arun was discharged from the hospital ten days later once he was able to breathe without assistance.

“In fact, it was a very challenging situation. People were dying because of lack of care, lack of hope, medicines, and medical equipment like [oxygen] concentrators, ventilators, and oxygen supply…I felt proud of my profession, the most at that moment, when I realized I had likely saved my own brother's life.”

Read more about Barun's story.

Dr. Kamrul Islam’s story from Bangladesh

SOURCE_WPD stories_Kamrul

Dr. Kamrul Islam admitted 4-month-old Ahammad to the intensive care unit (ICU) at icddr,b Dhaka Hospital in Bangladesh after being diagnosed with diarrhea, severe pneumonia, acute malnutrition, and severe sepsis. Ahammad was immediately put on fluids, antibiotics, and bubble continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) oxygen therapy. Ahammad’s health continued to decline. He was tested for tuberculosis and COVID-19, and he eventually tested positive for COVID-19 with associated multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). The ICU doctors tried different treatments to stabilize his condition. Gradually, Ahammad’s health improved, and he was able to be weaned off oxygen after two weeks. He left the hospital recovered a few days later.

Dr. Mohamed Bobe’s story in Somalia

SOURCE_WPD stories_Mohamed

Dr. Mohamed Bobe worked at the clinic in the remote village of Hingalool, Somalia. One day in the beginning of his tenure, a local mother named Hodan brought in her 12-day-old baby boy, Mohamed, who was unconscious and having seizures. The baby was dehydrated and had low blood sugar, as he had not breastfed for the last two days. Dr. Bobe diagnosed him with neonatal meningitis and severe pneumonia. After using all the minimal resources at his disposal, he could not help the newborn get enough oxygen.

He referred the mother and baby to the nearest health facility with an oxygen concentrator—around 70 kilometers away. The doctors there agreed with Dr. Bobe’s diagnosis and treatment plan, and baby Mohamed received the oxygen he needed to make a full recovery. He is now a thriving 7-year-old who tends to his village’s goats.

“Most children don’t recover fully from meningitis due to poor management, poor health attitude of the masses and so many delays in making a proper diagnosis… The first thing I requested for [the clinic] was an oxygen concentrator. Now that we have one, the biggest challenge is getting the electricity to run it in case a patient needs oxygen.”

Read more of Dr. Bobe’s story.

Mtheto’s story from Malawi

SOURCE_WPD stories_Mtheto

Mtheto Sinjani, a product development manager and co-founder of the OpenO2 initiative in Malawi, found out his uncle had been taken to the hospital with cardiac issues and put on an oxygen concentrator to help him breathe. When he needed more oxygen, Mtheto suggested to the nurse to combine two concentrators to reach a higher flowrate. However, the hospital did not have the necessary tee connector. From OpenO2’s stock, Mtheto collected the tee connector and did is best to retrofit the parts to his oxygen equipment.

When another patient needed an oxygen concentrator, hospital staff switched his uncle to an oxygen cylinder, which required a spanner to change the flowmeter and regulator. The spanner was not available. When his uncle's oxygen saturation dropped, Mtheto organized to collect the required spanner from one of his colleagues. As he came back to the ward to adjust the oxygen equipment, he found out that his uncle had already passed away.

“I kneeled with the shifting spanner in my hand and knew that was the end of it. That’s how I lost my beloved uncle and may his soul continue resting in peace...It’s not just the availability of oxygen that affects us. There are so many other challenges we face in our healthcare system here in Malawi.”

Read more about Mtheto’s story.

Ifrah’s story from Somalia

SOURCE_WPD stories_Ifrah

Ifrah Ali is from Ilkuhaye village in the Dusamareb District of Somalia, approximately 8 kilometers from the main town. When her baby, Nimo Ali Abdulkadir, had been unwell for some time, she hired a private driver to take her and her baby to the nearest hospital. When she arrived at the hospital, Nimo was very ill, dehydrated, and semiconscious. The baby was admitted and given antibiotics and oxygen therapy for three days until he was healthy and slowly came back normal.

“The situation of my baby was very bad when I came to the hospital, and I was also hopeless because my baby had been in that condition for some time. I’m grateful to WHO for helping us to get sufficient oxygen for 24/7.”

Ifrah and her baby were able to access lifesaving oxygen in Somalia from the scale up of solar-powered oxygen delivery systems. This initiative was led by the World Health Organization's (WHO’s) office in Somalia and the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the innovator Hewatele and Grand Challenges Canada, with facilitation from the WHO Innovation Hub and the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, and engagement from the multilateral agencies of the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All (SDG3 GAP) and its Accelerator on R&D, Access, and Innovation. Learn more.

Kathy's story from Peru

SOURCE_WPD stories_Kathy

Kathy Morales found out she was pregnant when she was four months along, after a history of pregnancy loss. She began receiving prenatal care from Socios En Salud in La Flor, Peru. In the fifth month, she began feeling intense cramps and contractions and was rushed to the maternity hospital in Lima, where doctors told her she was going into premature labor. Fortunately, doctors were able to stop the contractions.

Over the next several weeks, Kathy continued her prenatal check-ups at the health center in La Flor. During one visit, the oxygen levels in her blood became dangerously low. Socios En Salud referred her to the maternity hospital in Lima. She stayed there for the following three months, which allowed for constant monitoring and care in the final weeks of her high-risk pregnancy—until her daughter Victoria was born healthy.

"Thanks to Socios En Salud, I can say that Victoria is my daughter."

Read more about Kathy’s story.

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Learn more about PATH's work on oxygen.

Oxygen for all ages: Impacting lives across the lifespan

This campaign was developed as part of the Strengthening Oxygen Utilization and Respiratory Care Ecosystem (SOURCE) Project. PATH would like to thank all our partners who contributed stories to this campaign. We would also like to provide special recognition to RRD Design LLC for graphic design of the campaign.