The pandemic’s latest horror is that people around the world are dying for lack of access to medical oxygen, especially in India. Each day, tens of thousands of people are admitted to hospitals with Covid-19, driving the demand for the oxygen far beyond the supply.
The World Health Organization said in February that $1.6 billion would be needed to remedy the oxygen shortage for a year; now that estimate is up to $6.5 billion.
The crisis should not have come as a surprise. But in a year when policymakers lurched from one challenge to another — shortages of protective equipment, lockdowns, the threat of economic collapse, remote schooling, therapeutics, vaccines — oxygen supply never rose to the top of the list.
In the last two months, the unmet global need for medical oxygen has more than tripled, from less than 9 million cubic meters a day to more than 28 million, according to a coalition of aid groups that are tracking the crisis.
About half of that unmet need is in India. And health advocates warn that the calamity there could be repeated in other countries.