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WHO strengthens capacity of Sierra Leone’s health facilities with oxygen supply for critically ill patients

On 30 May 2022, WHO donated 900 oxygen cylinders with regulators and humidifiers to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation as a response to the need for oxygen in public health facilities across Sierra Leone. This is because the COVID-19 pandemic exposed gaps in the Sierra Leone health system’s ability to respond adequately to patient needs, especially the provision of life-saving medical oxygen. Each of the cylinders been donated can hold 40 litres of oxygen. The total cost of the donation cost more than USD200 000.

Dr. James Bunn, Technical officer for case management at the WHO Country Office in Sierra Leone, said handing over the oxygen cylinders to MoHS is an important step in the provision of nationwide oxygen in hospitals. Dr Bunn recalled the dire status of oxygen availability in the country at the start of COVID-19 in the country in March 2020.

“At the beginning of COVID-19, we may recall, we were briefly overwhelmed with patients needing oxygen, as were many other countries. But it’s been a pleasure over the last two years to see the country recognize and respond to this need, with the support of partners and donors,” said Dr Bunn.

While making a statement, Dr. Steven Shongwe, WHO Representative in Sierra Leone mentioned the status of oxygen for health facilities in the country, and some of the developments in increasing its availability.

The country is now in the early stages of putting together a long-term plan for the oxygen supply chain management through a technical working group. This will advise the MoHS and partners on the best systems to provide oxygen, including the cylinder distribution, and logistic plans for local refilling of cylinders and transport.

“This is not a small undertaking, and the 900 oxygen cylinders being provided by WHO are an important part of a whole system approach in the provision of this lifesaving commodity to patients, including those with COVID-19, whose lives can be saved with the reliable provision of oxygen” said Dr. Shongwe.

Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation, Mrs Princess Dugba, appreciated the donation and marked that the cylinders have come at a time when the government is at the early stages of putting together a strategy on its oxygen supply chain.

“The Ministry of Health and Sanitation appreciates this donation from WHO and will make sure we distribute these cylinders to health care facilities all over the country. This is timely as the Ministry is working to address the oxygen needs of health facilities, not just for COVID-19 but other oxygen needs of patients” Mrs Dugba said.

Cylinders can provide Oxygen without electricity and can store large amounts for patient use. They can be filled by the new oxygen plants being installed at regional and some district hospitals and are an important element of creating a robust system to provide oxygen and can deliver this when high flow oxygen is needed for critically ill patients.