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Oxygen Access

Research project

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) are finalists in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100 & Change program, a $US100M grant for the winning world-changing team. 

This achievement recognises the outstanding contribution that teams from MCRI and The University of Melbourne Centre for International Child Health have made towards improving oxygen access globally – over many years.

Why is oxygen important?

Oxygen is one of the most essential elements of life. When we breathe in air (which contains 21% oxygen), our lungs extract oxygen and it is transported around our body by red blood cells. Oxygen is used by our cells to release energy so that we can stay alive and well. 

Hypoxaemia (low blood oxygen levels) is a life-threatening complication of many illnesses such as pneumonia, preterm birth, and sepsis. Hypoxaemia increases patients’ risk of death enormously – resulting in hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths each year.

What is oxygen therapy?
Oxygen therapy is a life-saving therapy that is used for millions of patients every day – from preterm neonates with respiratory distress, to children with pneumonia and other lung conditions, adults with emphysema, and those receiving anaesthesia for surgical procedures.

However, many patients in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) do not receive oxygen when they need it. Treatment is often limited by poor hypoxaemia diagnosis and unreliable oxygen supplies – exacerbated by high prices and weak maintenance systems.

What are we doing to expand oxygen access?
Clinicians and researchers on the Melbourne Children’s Campus have been working with partners to address oxygen access for over a decade. Together with partners in Papua New Guinea, Laos, and Nigeria, they have developed and tested strategies to improve hospital oxygen systems – including the use of pulse oximetry, oxygen concentrators, simple distribution systems, and renewable powers – and helped translate lessons into policy.

Key discoveries

  • Hypoxaemia affects approximately 1 in 10 children admitted to hospital, including up to half of children with pneumonia, putting them at 4-7 time higher risk of death
  • Improvements in hospital oxygen systems can reduce child pneumonia deaths in hospital by up to 50%
  • Pulse oximetry is the key to improving oxygen access – improving identification of hypoxaemia and guiding rational and efficient use of oxygen resources
  • Solar powered oxygen concentrator systems can be an effective solution to oxygen systems needs in remote health facilities.

COVID-19 and beyond
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated deficiencies in hospital oxygen systems globally, but it is also an opportunity to “build back better”. Melbourne Childrens' Campus researchers are working with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, national governments, and local organisations to improve oxygen systems for COVID-19, and the long-term.

A bold and exciting proposal for expanding oxygen access in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and India (in partnership with the Clinton Health Access Initiative) is through to the final six of the MacArthur Foundation’s 100 & Change program, a $US100M grant for the winning world-changing team. 

Thanks to key partners, funders, and supporters

​​​Program leaders

Further information