asian boy with face oxygen mask lay on a white bed at hospital

A new global commission will help improve access to medical oxygen in low- and middle-income countries, potentially preventing over half a million child deaths every year.

The Lancet Global Health Commission on Medical Oxygen Security, published in The Lancet, aims to conduct research over the next two years that will be translated into policy and practice in countries with limited access to high-quality medical oxygen.

The Commission is co-led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research (icddr,b) and Makerere University

Medical oxygen is an essential treatment for respiratory illnesses (such as COVID and pneumonia), chronic conditions, surgery and trauma care, and it is critical for vulnerable groups, including the elderly, pregnant women and newborns who regularly require oxygen therapy. 

Despite being an essential medicine, many factors, including cost, management, supply, human resources and safety, can all impede access to oxygen therapy. As a result, many health facilities in low- and middle-income countries lack reliable oxygen access, and this gap has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as many of these countries were severely impacted by oxygen-related disruptions and excess deaths. 

Murdoch Children’s researcher and Commission co-chair Dr Hamish Graham said, “access to safe, affordable, and appropriate medical oxygen is crucial for improving population health. However, severely limited or unreliable oxygen services are a persistent issue in many low- and middle-income countries, particularly among smaller health facilities serving rural and marginalised populations.”

Around 15 million children are admitted to hospital with life-threatening low blood oxygen levels due to pneumonia and other conditions every year, and lack of oxygen is a major contributor to death.

“Around 90 per cent of these children come from low- and middle-income countries in the African and Asia-Pacific regions where better oxygen access could prevent over half a million child deaths annually,” Dr Graham said.

Dr Graham and his team have been supporting hospitals and governments to build stronger oxygen systems in these regions for over two decades. They’ve found that strengthening hospital oxygen systems can improve a child's chance of surviving pneumonia by 35 to 50 per cent.   

The Commission will continue this important work by addressing major challenges low- and middle-income countries are facing in accessing oxygen and developing solutions that will drive policy change. 

“This is the first time a global multi-disciplinary initiative has focused on medical oxygen delivery in resource-constrained health settings,” co-chair Dr Freddy Kitutu from Makerere University said.

“The aim of the Commission is to improve availability of oxygen systems and adapt and use existing, proven oxygen solutions to benefit all patients with conditions that lead to low oxygen levels,” he said.

 The group plans to publish a report and policy briefs translated into multiple languages summarising the major recommendations for national, regional, and global health decision-makers. 

“I am excited that the Commission has prioritised input from scientists, researchers and experts from Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and South America, giving us the opportunity to help solve this long-standing challenge of inadequate access to oxygen therapy,” Dr Kitutu said.

Dr Graham said he hoped their efforts would help improve access to essential medical oxygen services in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world.

The Commission will be co-chaired by Dr Hamish Graham, Dr Freddy Kitutu, Dr Ehsanur Rahman from icddr,b, Dr Carina King from the Karolinska InstituteLeith Greenslade from Every Breath Counts Coalition and Zoë Mullan from The Lancet Global Health

Learn more as Dr Graham discusses the importance of medical oxygen at the Murdoch Children's Annual Showcase: 








Publication: Freddy Eric Kitutu, Ahmed Ehsanur Rahman, Hamish Graham, Carina King, Shams El Arifeen, Freddie Ssengooba, Leith Greenslade, Zoë Mullan, Announcing The Lancet Global Health Commission on Medical Oxygen Security, The Lancet. DOI: