PARIS | In the poor countries of Africa or South Asia, the doctors are missing the most crucial element to save the sick and the most serious of the COVID-19 : the oxygen itself, warn the experts.
The health crisis has turned even the hospital systems the most advanced, who are struggling in particular to obtain a result, artificial respirators.
But experts fear that this attention to link high-technology respiratory support does mask a need even more of a concern and priority for health systems in the most vulnerable : medical oxygen, a key component of intensive care.
“The reality is that oxygen is the only therapy that will save lives in Africa and Asia-Pacific at this stage,” said Hamish Graham, a pediatrician and researcher at the university hospital of Melbourne.
“I fear that the excessive focus on the respirators do not kill, if you don’t solve the problems of oxygen”, he explains to AFP.
According to a report published in February on several thousands of cases in China, nearly 20 % of patients of the COVID-19 have been in need of oxygen.
The new coronavirus that attacks the lungs, causing some forms of acute respiratory distress and leading to a dangerous decline in the level of oxygen in the blood.
“In the hospitals of rich countries, oxygen is self-evident,” explains Dr. Graham. But elsewhere, “the carers are fully aware of the problem : they struggle each day to be able to provide oxygen to their patients.”
Many of the large hospitals of developing countries, have oxygen tanks in the operating theatres and services, as well as “hubs,” portable equipment that can be used to filter and purify the air.
But studies show that less than half of the hospitals of Africa and Asia-Pacific have oxygen at any time, insists Dr. Graham. And they are much less likely to be equipped with pulse oximeters, this little device that you put at the end of the finger of the patient to measure his oxygen level in the blood.
This concern is not new among those who care for patients with pneumonia, an infectious disease, the most deadly in children under 5 years of age.
In spite of national policies in place, in Nigeria, one of the most affected countries, the situation in some regions is “very, very worrying,” said Adamu Isah, the NGO Save the Children.
It is common to see children “suffer and suffocate,” says the former physician to the AFP. “It feels unnecessary. There is not much you can do without oxygen”.
“A blind date”
“The health systems in Africa and South Asia could not be more exposed to such a pandemic, they have not invested in the respiratory therapies”, notes that his side Leith Greenslade, co-ordinator of the coalition, Every Breath Counts.
“It is terrifying”, she adds.
Despite the death of 800,000 children are victims of pneumonia each year, the disease does not receive the same attention as hiv / aids, malaria or tuberculosis.
And the health authorities in the world have “completely neglected” the question of the oxygen, writes Leith Greenslade.
“The lack of global data (supply oxygen) is going to be a major problem to meet the COVID-19 because one navigates to the blind, we do not know which countries have the most need,” she adds.
The epidemic is still relatively little developed in Africa and in certain parts of Asia, it remains, despite everything, “probably a window of two months to act, she insists.
Even if it is difficult to predict how the new virus will spread in this part of the world, experts call to strengthen the systems of care in an emergency.
“Like everywhere, you need to flatten the curve, but if the facilities do not have beds in intensive care — or very little as in Malawi, where there are 25 to 17 million inhabitants, it won’t work”, underlines Gwen Hines, of Save the Children.
His organization works precisely in Malawi, where few cases have been confirmed for the supply of the oxygen concentrators in solar energy, while the power grid is intermittent and that there was no site of oxygen production.
But in the midst of the global crisis, experts fear that the international community could not act quickly enough to remedy this lack of oxygen and other basic equipment in the poorest countries.
In Nigeria, the aid should start by sending pulse oximeters, and hubs can be used in clinics modest, and after only respirators, pleads Adamu Isah.
“I’m afraid that if this pandemic lasts longer than two months, we had to face very serious problems”, if alarm there.
“In Europe or the United States, they may have the capacity to cope with the demands, but not in Africa, even in time of peace”.