Oxygen access in developing countries: a public health challenge

In November, 2016, I met 3-year-old Barack Obama’s mother, Mary Atieno, who was all smiles as she watched over her son at the Akala Health Center in Siaya County in western Kenya. Just a few hours earlier, he was struggling to stay alive, one breath at a time. He had been admitted at the hospital suffering from severe pneumonia. The young Obama, named after the former US president, was only alive because he had access to oxygen therapy. Too many children—and adults—across the developing world are not so fortunate.

Oxygen is taken for granted by those living in developed countries. But in lower- and middle-income countries, oxygen is often not available to everyone fighting to breathe. Health facilities outside of central hospitals often don’t have funds or technology to procure oxygen and health workers don’t know how to use it.

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