THE OXYGEN CHALLENGE
Oxygen is an essential medicine that forms the basis of a wide range of medical treatments. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how precarious access to medical oxygen is around the world, especially in low resources settings (LRS). The shortage of oxygen however is neither a new nor temporary phenomenon: at best 43.4% of sub-Saharan Africa have access to an oxygen supply of any kind though the number could be as low as 12.6% (Mangipudi, 2020), while child pneumonia (for which oxygen therapy is a vital treatment) claims the lives of over 800,000 children under five annually (WHO, 2017).
Existing portable PSA oxygen concentrators are a promising solution but are expensive and often unreliable with extreme heat, humidity and dust causing units to fail prematurely. They are typically difficult to repair and replacement parts (especially electronics) are expensive or impossible to source in local supply chains. Furthermore, existing oxygen concentrators rely on AC power and backup generators and are vulnerable to power fluctuations that reduce operational efficiency and can cause damage. However, 789 million people around the world have no access to any kind of energy source and it is estimated that only 28% health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa have reliable electricity (Powering Healthcare, 2020).
Lack of access to both oxygen and power highlights what is so often the case: that those who have the greatest need are also those who have the least access to solutions. This is a third gap that we must bridge through partnership with health ministries, NGOs and businesses with a shared vision to secure sustainable access to oxygen for all.
Working on the first prototype come rain or shine (or snow!) (Scotland, 2020)
Testing in the lab (Scotland, 2020)
THE RESILIENT OXYGEN PROJECT
The R-O2 Project aims to bridge these gaps: we have developed a portable oxygen concentrator designed specifically for low resource settings (LRS) that can be powered by renewables as well as grid power. Its mechanical design eliminates the need for expensive and at times vulnerable electronics to drive the system making it more resilient in challenging conditions and simpler to maintain and repair. Design for repairability is at the core of the R-O2 concentrator which is constructed as far as possible from common parts found in most LRS supply chains reducing reliance on non-local supply chains.
The R-O2 concentrator also incorporates innovations currently being trialed to improve energy efficiency by 20-40% compared to existing portable PSA concentrators, allowing it to be powered by lower yield energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro whilst helping hospitals manage their power consumption and free up energy to be allocated for other vital purposes such as refrigerators and incubators.
These innovations will allow us to offer a solution that aims not only to temporarily ‘plug a gap’ in global oxygen supply, but to help health providers worldwide build long-term resilience with sustainability at its core.
Optimisation tests in the lab (Scotland, 2021)
Optimisation tests on the concentrator system (Scotland, 2021)
THE OXYGEN COLAB
CREATIVenergie have also been involved in helping to catalyse and steer a new initiative in collaboration with the Foreign & Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) of the UK government. This resulted in the formation of The Oxygen CoLab in December 2020, an international consortium of major actors in the world of oxygen, health and development, including UNICEF.
The Oxygen CoLab seeks to bring together all the required pieces in order to implement a successful oxygen solution from innovators, practitioners and researchers to manufacturers, regulatory certification and businesses. Through this emerging global network and partnerships with other important groups such as the Every Breath Counts Coalition, we are hopeful that together we have the potential to effect real change and improve global sustainable access to oxygen for all.