COVID-19 brought into sharp relief the importance of respiratory health and the good public health policies and practices that allow sick children in developing countries to do something most of us take for granted – breathe easily.

MCRI has been at the forefront of efforts to reduce respiratory infections and their consequences in countries in nearby Pacific regions, as well as in south and central Asia and Africa.

The pandemic has highlighted the value of medical oxygen and exposed the inequity of oxygen access facing millions. Low blood oxygen, known as hypoxemia, is a life-threatening complication of many illnesses, including pneumonia, sepsis, malaria and COVID-19.

Hypoxemia increases a patient's risk of dying seven-fold, contributing to more than 1 million deaths in low and middle-income countries every year. Many of these deaths could be prevented with access to the medical oxygen we take for granted in high-income countries. Unfortunately, many of the world's hospitals are not properly equipped to diagnose hypoxemia or deliver oxygen to patients.

MCRI researchers have found that in places like Nigeria, over 90 per cent of facilities do not have pulse oximeters, simple handheld devices to measure blood oxygen. And fewer than half of these facilities have a reliable oxygen supply. Because of this, only 20 per cent of hypoxemic patients are diagnosed and fewer than half of these receive the oxygen therapy they need.

But even in a pandemic, our researchers have shown that positive change is possible by getting oxygen to those who need it and saving lives.

The #InvestInOxygen campaign, launched in 2020, is a partnership between MCRI and the Clinton Health Access Initiative. It aims to raise much-needed funds to reduce the burden of low blood oxygen and its effect on child mortality in five countries, which together account for one-third of the global burden of hypoxemia.

A global webinar, hosted by former US President Bill Clinton and featuring Dr Anthony Fauci, acknowledged the enormity of the inequitable access to medical oxygen and its impact on vulnerable children. The joint initiative was recognised as one of the world's top six entries in the US-based MacArthur Foundation's $100 million "100&Change" competition.

The team's next steps are to turn that visibility into philanthropic funding, to make a step-change difference and save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Learn more about the Oxygen Access research project here: