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UNICEF Innovation

Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen is a lifesaving therapeutic medical gas which can improve clinical outcomes for children suffering from severe pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. Unfortunately, oxygen therapy remains an inaccessible luxury for many ill children.









Pneumonia is the leading cause of death from infectious disease in children under five worldwide yet it is preventable, treatable and curable. Children with severe pneumonia require oxygen therapy to treat hypoxemia, a fatal complication that affects approximately 13 percent of children with pneumonia (1.86 million cases each year). Studies have proven that well-planned oxygen systems can improve clinical outcomes for children suffering from severe pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. In one study in Papua New Guinea, oxygen therapy provided to treat hypoxemia in hospitals resulted in a 35 percent reduction in death from severe pneumonia. Medical oxygen and pulse oximetry play a central role in the treatment of hypoxemia and the oxygen project is one of the efforts UNICEF is leading around pneumonia treatment and prevention.

The Project

Although there are commercially available oxygen technologies which can be used at most levels of the health system, there are inherent complexities in the procurement and utilization of appropriate equipment, and oxygen therapy remains inaccessible to a large proportion of severely ill children in low-resource health settings.

This project will develop interagency specifications and improve procurement mechanisms for the most critical products, devices and consumables for safe-delivery of oxygen, in consultation with an expert advisory committee. By addressing critical products for oxygen therapy the project aims to have a broader impact on oxygen therapy utilization generally, including anesthesia, emergency obstetric care, surgery, or any other health condition requiring monitoring of oxygen saturation and respiratory rate. In low and middle income country settings, poor oxygen system planning often results in an inconsistent or low system capacity. This project will seek to address these common issues through the scoping and creation of an online tool to support oxygen system planning and maintenance.

The development of an online tool will enable more efficient and informed selection, procurement, installation, training, and maintenance of oxygen therapy technologies, at all levels of the healthcare system. Through these outputs, this project will remove barriers to scaling safe and appropriate oxygen system products in resource limited settings.

Related information

Oxygen is essential: a policy and advocacy primer, November 2017
Providing oxygen to children in hospitals: a realist review, April 2017 
Oxygen is an essential medicine: a call for international action, November 2010
Pulse oximetry: technology to reduce child mortality in developing countries, July 2013

UNICEF Target Product Profiles webpage





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