How the Gates Foundation and Seattle nonprofit PATH are helping get oxygen to India

PATH coordinated the installation of pressure swing adsorption systems for oxygen generation in medical facilities in India with suppliers. (Courtesy photo of PATH)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has partnered with two Chicago financial groups to pour $ 5.5 million into Seattle-based nonprofit PATH’s efforts to deliver more oxygen to COVID-19 patients in India.

“Inadequate access to medical oxygen is one of the critical health challenges of our time,” said Chris Elias, president of global development at the Gates Foundation. “As we are now seeing in India, the consequences can be dire.”

PATH is working with officials in 10 Indian states to identify sources of oxygen for hospitals. PATH teams are also helping agencies figure out how much oxygen local hospitals have available and how much they will need.

India is being overwhelmed by a second wave COVID crisis that kills more than 4,000 people every day.

The official death toll on Thursday was 262,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. However, the Institute of Health Metrics and Assessment at the University of Washington has warned that the real death toll is likely three times as high. IHME projects will cause a total of 1 million COVID deaths in India by August 1st.

Technology leaders in the Seattle area are jointly trying to raise $ 10 million to support India’s COVID-19 battle

The lack of medical oxygen in hospitals is exacerbating the crisis in India. Hospitals in many areas report that they regularly run out or run out of oxygen. So many people die that cemeteries and crematoriums in some areas cannot keep up.

The problem is that COVID patients need far more oxygen than hospitals would use on a patient with a different disease, said Mohammed Ameel, director of primary health care, technology and innovation in New Delhi. Oxygen is especially important for seriously ill COVID patients who usually develop pneumonia.

About 15% of COVID patients in India require oxygen, Ameel said. According to one report, major Indian hospitals are now using as much oxygen every day as they normally do in a week.

In typical circumstances, India produces more than enough oxygen to meet its medical and industrial needs, Ameel said. However, as demand increased, the country’s supply chain has collapsed. Large rail tankers that bring liquid oxygen to large hospitals that used to travel 200 kilometers from the production site to the point of delivery; Now they are traveling 1,000 kilometers to supply new customers with emergency oxygen, he said.

“The challenge is in the supply chain and turnaround time,” said Ameel.

And not all hospitals have the capacity to handle the giant oxygen tanks, Ameel said. “The challenge is not just in production, but if you produce enough how do you transport it and when you get to the hospital, where do you store it?” he said. “(In many cases) you don’t have the ability to do that.”

PATH has worked closely with officials in the states of Punjab, Maharashtra, and Karnataka to help them resolve these issues. Karnataka’s capital is the technology center of Bengaluru, also known as Bangalore. Maharashtra’s capital is Mumbai, the nation’s financial center. “We support procurement,” said Ameel. “We help you to secure oxygen concentrators and oxygen generator systems.”

Logistical problems will be reduced by building new oxygen generator facilities near hospitals. And oxygen concentrators – small bedside units that draw in air, remove nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and other gases – can provide oxygen to a handful of patients. Oxygen concentrators are especially helpful in areas where hospitals are full, Ameel said, because patients can be sent home with one.

In response to the crisis in India, donations like those from the Gates Foundation came in, said Carla Sandine, PATH’s chief foreign affairs officer.

“We are seeing an increase in support for the global COVID crisis in the United States,” she said. “This includes the US government and US corporations.”

Last year donors focused on supporting domestic COVID relief efforts, she said. But now, “I feel a change,” said Sandine. “In the US, people are relieved to see what’s starting here and appalled that much of the world has no end in sight.”

And she noted in places like Seattle, “The Indian diaspora is big and dedicated and charitable and loved.”

Last week, technology leaders in the Seattle area formed a group called Seattle for India, which is seeking to raise $ 10 million to support efforts to provide India with vital health services. Home technology giant Microsoft is also helping with its technology and donations to help the cause.

PATH uses donations in two ways, Sandine said: providing funding to use teams and resources in India and neighboring countries to increase oxygen production, and helping to fund the development and testing of a new low-cost COVID vaccine that could be manufactured in many places worldwide.

The Gates Foundation has partnered with Citadel, a Chicago-based investment management firm, and Citadel Securities, a finance company, to make the donation. It is the first scholarship announced since Bill and Melinda Gates announced plans for divorce on May 4th.

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