Three ways UNICEF provides oxygen

For those suffering from severe COVID-19, oxygen can be the difference between life and death. Here are three ways UNICEF is providing oxygen during the pandemic.

Oxygen cylinders in a hospital of Madagascar, December 2020.
19 May 2021

Oxygen is in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and a critical part of the development of life. However, medical oxygen (at least 82 per cent pure and free from contamination) is critical for treating patients with respiratory diseases. Unfortunately, it is often unavailable in many parts of the world.  

UNICEF is urgently expanding access to oxygen and here are three ways how we do it.  

1. We’re sending lifesaving supplies for immediate response

Throughout 2020 and 2021 the need has been evident: countries across the world urgently require oxygen equipment. Since January 2020, UNICEF has delivered 20,629 oxygen concentrators to 94 countries. These machines take in air from the environment, remove nitrogen and produce a continuous source of oxygen. In addition, UNICEF has distributed 42,593 oxygen accessories (such as pulse oximeters, flow splitters, oxygen analyzers and humidifier bottles) and 1,074,754 consumables (such as nasal cannula, face masks and tubing) – essential equipment to ensure oxygen therapy can be safely administered to patients.*


A UNICEF staff checks oxygen concentrators shipment at a warehouse in Dwaraka, New Delhi, India, September 2020.
UNICEF is providing thousands of oxygen concentrators to health facilities to help India fight COVID-19.

To learn more, read our SPRINT in Senegal story that highlights the essential equipment required for delivering oxygen therapy.

2. We’re helping countries build oxygen systems

The need for medical oxygen goes far beyond the COVID-19 emergency. It’s a crucial commodity required for a range of health needs – like treating sick newborns and children with pneumonia, supporting mothers with birth complications, and keeping patients stable during surgeries. To ensure long-term solutions, UNICEF is working with governments to build oxygen systems. This can involve installing oxygen plants, developing cylinder delivery networks, or purchasing concentrators, in addition to training health staff on diagnosing respiratory illnesses and safely administering oxygen. The Oxygen System Planning Tool is helping countries map out their needs while technical support is provided by UNICEF staff and biomedical engineers. 

A health care worker inspects a new oxygen plant installed at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Malawi to respond to COVID-19 and support future health needs.
In Malawi, UNICEF supported the installation of an oxygen plant at Kamuzu Central Hospital to respond to COVID-19 and support future health needs.

To learn more, read our World Pneumonia Day story, that highlights system-building efforts in several countries.  

3. We’re fast-tracking oxygen innovations

Via our oxygen-focused innovations, the response can come at a low cost and high impact. The approach involves working with businesses, academia, manufactures, governments, and field partners to identify, develop and scale fit-for-purpose and value-for-money products that respond to the needs of children and families.  Some current projects include:

  • The Oxygen Therapy Project provides governments with practical tools for building oxygen systems such as the WHO/UNICEF guidance manual for procuring oxygen devices and the Oxygen System Planning Tool. 
  • The Acute Respiratory Infection Diagnostic Aid “ARIDA” Project led to the innovation of a hand-held respiratory-rate counter and pulse-oximetry device that helps detect low oxygen levels in blood. 
  • The Scaling Pneumonia Response Innovations “SPRINT” Project helps countries scale up proven pneumonia interventions (oxygen and antibiotics) via a country-level triaging tool that assesses bottlenecks and existing capacity to improve pneumonia response systems. 
  • The Oxygen Concentrator Innovation Project aims to create a durable, state-of-the-art oxygen concentrator that operates in low resource environments.
  • UNICEF is also escalating other innovative solutions, such as an “Oxygen plant in a box” that would provide an all-in-one option to urgently set up a plant in locations where access to equipment is scarce.
Sitting beside a caregiver, young boy with a handheld device that measures oxygen saturation attached to his index finger.
UNICEF/Malaria Consortium/AMaurel
The ARIDA respiratory-rate counter and pulse-oximetry device being tested in Ethiopia in 2019.

To learn more about these projects and our approach to innovation, visit the product innovation webpage.  

Supporting our efforts

While there are enormous global efforts underway, the need for oxygen continues to grow. By addressing the current gap, we not only provide urgent treatment to COVID-19 patients but can save the lives of newborns and children who require oxygen to survive.  
UNICEF is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A)  COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce to respond to COVID-19 surges in oxygen demand. Increased support from governments and donors to fill the financing needs is crucial to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 treatment which includes oxygen therapy.  

To learn more about ACT-A and how to support our work, visit our ACT-A Supplies Financing Facility webpage.

* Data as of 19 May 2021.