UNICEF to drive development of robust concentrator with support from Oxygen CoLab and UK Government

UNICEF has partnered with the Oxygen CoLab to drive the development of new and innovative robust oxygen concentrators for use in low-resource settings.

Staff workers set up an oxygen concentrator at Community Health Centre in Loni, Ghaziabad - India.
04 November 2021

Oxygen concentrators have been vital in UNICEF’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing life-saving oxygen to patients struggling to breathe. They are also critical for treating children with pneumonia, which remains the leading cause of death from infectious diseases in children under 5 worldwide.  

However, the concentrators currently available on the market were developed as medical devices for at-home oxygen therapy by adult patients in places with a controlled climate (e.g. with air conditioning). They also require reliable electricity.  

Many health facilities are based in hot, dusty and humid climates, without on-site maintenance expertise or reliable power systems. 

There is a need for a more robust oxygen concentrator tailored for long-term use in these challenging settings and designed for treating both adult and child patients.

A more robust concentrator  

UNICEF will drive the development of a concentrator that is easy to maintain, resistant to dust, high heat and humidity, and resilient to power-related challenges.  

Ideally, new concentrators will be more energy efficient, able to operate on solar power in combination with a small battery, or generators with limited capacity, as is common in health facilities in low-resource settings. This will allow more medical equipment to be powered at the same time and be more cost effective, helping save funds that can be invested elsewhere.  

The project is also exploring add-ons that store reserves of oxygen so patients can continue to receive life-saving oxygen treatment during power outages.  

Initially, UNICEF and the Oxygen CoLab are working to understand the challenges with existing products and communicate these needs to manufacturers via a Target Product Profile. UNICEF will then work alongside health companies in the development and testing of new products.  

The Oxygen CoLab brings together innovators and supports them to test innovative ideas, solutions and prototypes through grant-funded open challenges. 

"We’re delighted to be working with UNICEF in seeking to close the oxygen gap for those without access when they need it most. We support this important effort to get fail safe concentrators into oxygen therapy ecosystems,” says Professor Charlotte Watts, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Chief Scientific Adviser. 

Beyond COVID-19  

While COVID-19 highlighted the oxygen technology gap in many countries, the need for this life-saving medical gas goes far beyond the pandemic.  

Oxygen therapy is critical in the treatment of newborns and children with pneumonia, which takes the lives of 800,000 children each year, almost all of which are preventable. It is also an essential part of primary health care used for supporting mothers and newborns with birth complications, and keeping patients stable during surgery.  

For too long oxygen therapy has remained out of reach for many whose lives are at risk. Through this initiative, UNICEF and the Oxygen CoLab hope to help ensure this life-saving medical gas reaches those who need it most and build back better after COVID-19.  

About The Oxygen CoLab  

The Oxygen CoLab, funded by the UK Government (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), connects innovators working to rethink and redesign Oxygen Concentrators to be fit-for-purpose in low-resource settings. They are bringing together innovators from across academia, non-governmental organizations, start-ups and technical experts to help understand and solve challenges with current concentrators available on the market.