Covid: Doctors cry out for oxygen as EU votes on vaccines patent waiver

Tuesday June 01 2021

A patient breathing with the help of free oxygen provided by an NGO for Covid-19 in Amritsar, India, on May 23, 2021. PHOTO | AFP


Doctors Without Borders (MSF), an international medical humanitarian organisation now wants medical oxygen supply added to Covid vaccines and PPEs, at the heart of the global Covid-19 response.

This comes on the eve of the European Union parliament vote on the World Trade Organisation intellectual property rights (IPR) waiver for Covid-19 vaccines during the June 7-10 sessions.

“Before the pandemic we saw patients suffering from pneumonia, malaria, sepsis, and a variety of other conditions, as well as far too many premature babies, die due to a lack of medical oxygen,” said Dr Marc Biot, MSF director of operations.

“Covid-19 has brought this issue into sharp focus. Unstable oxygen supplies kill.”

“Countries for the waiver are not asking for charity, but for the right to develop and make their own vaccines, more affordable medicines, reagents and other health technologies free from worry that they will be blocked or sued by IP holders,” said Leena Menghaney, Global IP Advisor, MSF Access Campaign.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed willingness to explore a waiver after President Joe Biden last week promoted the plan, reversing the US position.


Whilst hospitals in wealthy countries have their own oxygen plants and pipe highly concentrated oxygen to the bedside, patients in developing countries I must rely on bulk, expensive and easily depleted oxygen cylinders or small oxygen concentrators which are not sufficient for critical patients.

“Oxygen is the single most important medicine for severe Covid-19 patients, yet oxygen supply is often insufficient because infrastructure has been neglected in lower- and middle-income countries for decades,” said Dr Biot.

Away from treatment, Covid-19 vaccination in Africa has been haphazard because of lack of vaccines. In Rwanda vaccination resumed nationwide this Saturday for those who had received their first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

Rwanda Biomedical Centre said in a statement on Friday that it had received additional 247,000 doses of AstraZeneca through the Covax mechanism, including 117,600 doses donated by the French government.

“We are thankful to France and to other partners for their support in making these vaccines available. We will immediately start administration of second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” said Dr Daniel Ngamije, Rwanda’s Minister of Health.

Rwanda needs at least 13 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to inoculate 60 percent of the population, about 7.5 million people, by June 2022. So far, only four percent have received the first dose of the vaccine.

In Kenya, the Ministry of Health announced this week vaccination for people who had received their first jabs. The government had accessed the doses through Covax from countries that had given them up before their expiry in June.