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WHO, UNITAID Form Task Force to Secure Oxygen for COVID Patients

FILE - Edgar Barbaran exchanges a small, empty oxygen tank for a large one as he waits since the previous day for a refill shop to open in Callao, Peru, amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Jan. 25, 2021.

The World Health Organization, the global health initiative UNITAID and a consortium of partners Tuesday announced a new task force to secure oxygen supplies for COVID-19 patients in low and middle-income nations.

Speaking to reporters at the United Nations’ Geneva headquarters, UNITAID spokesman Herve Verhoosel said low-and-middle-income nations have faced challenges maintaining oxygen supplies since the pandemic started. He said some hospitals have simply run out, resulting in preventable deaths.

Verhoosel said more than 500,000 people in low- and middle-income countries currently need more than 1.1 million cylinders of oxygen per day, equal to eight million cubic meters.

Based on assessments provided by WHO’s Health Emergencies Program,
task force members are hoping to raise $90 million to address oxygen needs in up to 20 countries, including Malawi, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

Verhoosel said UNITAID and another task force member group, the health research foundation WELLCOME, will provide the initial $20 million, and they will determine the most urgent, short-term needs as well overall funding needed for the next year.