Gasping for Air in Africa

A hospital worker in Antananarivo, Madagascar moves oxygen cylinders on July 20, 2020. Image: Rijasolo/AFP/Getty
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A hospital worker in Antananarivo, Madagascar moves oxygen cylinders on July 20, 2020. Image: Rijasolo/AFP/Getty

Severe shortages of medical oxygen across sub-Saharan Africa have robbed many patients with severe COVID-19 and pneumonia of a key time-buying treatment.

Activists blame 2 suppliers, The Linde Group and Air Liquide, that monopolize the market—overcharging and limiting supplies. “These prices are completely beyond the reach of most public hospitals across sub-Saharan Africa,” says Leith Greenslade of the Every Breath Counts coalition. Hospitals are forced to pass the cost on to patients.

Ex-employees and analysts estimate profit margins of between 45-88% on medical oxygen. And some companies charge up to 7X more for medical oxygen vs. industrial.

In response, some hospitals are building their own oxygen plants—that paid off in Uganda.

Other strategies: supplying suitcase-sized oxygen concentrators to convert ambient air and decentralizing production.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism & The Guardian

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