COVID-19 testing, oxygen programs launched

The U.S. is partnering to improve COVID-19 testing and treatment in numerous countries. Above, a patient is tested for COVID-19 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, January 30. (© Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP Images)

Nearly a dozen countries will get lifesaving medicines while others will receive increased access to oxygen supplies needed to treat COVID-19 patients under U.S.-led initiatives announced September 23.

“This pandemic taught us the importance of expanding access to critical medical supplies,” U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.

While COVID-19 vaccination rates in low- and middle-income countries have quadrupled since September 2021 (from 13% to 56%), Thomas-Greenfield said more must be done “to address the equity gap in global vaccinations and protect people at risk of severe illness.”

Greenfield outlined three initiatives during a September 23 COVID Global Action Plan Ministerial on the sidelines of the 77th session of the U.N. General Assembly.

‘Test-to-treat’ programs

Ten countries will participate in the pilot program to help those at highest risk of severe COVID-19 get tested and receive antiviral medications early in their illness if they test positive.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will launch these “test-to-treat” pilot programs in partnership with host governments and public health experts. The programs will help countries act quickly in case of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The countries involved are Bangladesh, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, El Salvador, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda and Senegal, USAID said.

Access to medical oxygen

Nurse expanding oxygen mask rubber bands for demonstration (USAID/Lameck Ododo)
The U.S. helped train nurse Sandra Karimi and other health care workers in Kenya to provide therapeutic oxygen. Above, Karimi works at Wangige Hospital in Kenya October 27, 2021. (USAID/Lameck Ododo)

The pandemic strained global supplies of medical oxygen, needed for treating patients with severe COVID-19. Before the pandemic, roughly half of inpatient facilities in Africa had reliable access to medical oxygen, Thomas-Greenfield said.

The U.S. government has already committed $50 million to provide medical oxygen, install oxygen storage tanks and upgrade medical infrastructure that delivers oxygen to patients’ bedsides.

Through this initiative, USAID will work with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Ghana, Jamaica, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia.

New global clearinghouse

Partners will also establish a global clearinghouse that will facilitate countries’ access to needed medical supplies. The effort, expected to launch next year, aims to make global medical supply chains more resilient and efficient. The clearinghouse will convene procurement agencies and medical supply and components manufacturers.

“We’ve seen throughout this pandemic access to these essential supplies can mean the difference between life and death,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

These new initiatives build off the COVID-19 Global Action Plan (GAP), launched in February, that seeks to:

  • Increase COVID-19 vaccinations around the world.
  • End the acute phase of the pandemic.
  • Strengthen global health security.

Thomas-Greenfield urged, “Let’s continue to work together … to make the world safer, to make the world healthier, and free from pandemics for all.”