How can we get fit-for-purpose Oxygen Concentrators to low resource settings?

Hollie Dobson
Published in
4 min readDec 4, 2020

*Announcing new initiative with a focus on a vital resource

* The Oxygen CoLab will be testing and learning to find the best solutions

*We’re calling on you to help out!

We are excited to announce the launch of The Oxygen CoLab. As the name suggests, this work is a collaboration between those who support product innovators and those who enable those products to reach scale by paving the way with regulation, a fit-for-purpose product target and financing to make it happen.

The Oxygen CoLab is adopting a systematic approach to address innovation challenges that may stand in the way of the design and production of oxygen resources for those without access. This project is funded by UK Aid from the UK Government.

By supporting existing coalitions on oxygen and oxygen innovators, we aim to clear the path to market from initial product inception to the final transition to scaled distribution.

Oxygen is a vital part of the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in the long run an essential part of primary health care. Patients often require oxygen to recover if they are infected but that resource is not always readily available. There are a range of solutions for medical oxygen, but at the centre of the oxygen gap, especially for remote health centres in developing countries is the Oxygen concentrator.

What is an oxygen concentrator?

In many metropolitan hospitals, liquid oxygen is literally plumbed into the walls, making it accessible like water or gas to a home. In rural areas, oxygen can be supplied in canisters, delivered as needed. In remote areas, neither solution is a reliable option and in all three cases, oxygen concentrators can ease the demand or solve supply problems.

In very basic terms, oxygen concentrators take the air around us, removes nitrogen and provides oxygen enriched gas. Using ambient air supplies means there are fewer supply chain pressures and the overall process can be cheaper. It’s no wonder that this technology is a real boost in the response to COVID, especially in areas where it’s harder to deliver tanks or set up an expensive plumbed supply.

COVID-19 patients that are very unwell in hospital usually need help to breathe. The virus has a huge impact on the respiratory system which can mean the application of ventilators or less invasive CPAP machines — all of which needs an oxygen supply to help patients.

The challenge

There are a range of solutions for medical oxygen, but one of the best solutions for remote health centres in developing countries, is the oxygen concentrator.

These devices have a solid track record of saving lives in developing countries, but there is growing recognition that innovation on key aspects of oxygen concentrators could help spark much greater access and impact.

Here are some of the problems we’d like to work on solving –

  • Existing designs are not fit for purpose for use in off grid or low resource health facilities. Sometimes power consumption for oxygen concentrators is just too high, it’s not easy to find spare parts and existing models can be prone to dust and humidity.
  • Some current designs need fresh options for oxygen and power storage.
  • Not all units are easy to operate and could do with a refresh in terms of user-centred design
  • Although there is an active R&D pipeline for innovative oxygen concentrator technologies, it’s pretty fragmented and could do with ideas around consolidation for low-resource settings.
  • A clear business case and a sense of the total global market potential for low resource settings needs to be identified.
  • We also need to bring together people who are independently already doing great work on these technologies from small hack groups to big multilaterals.

Three work-streams solving Oxygen Concentrators

We need you!

COVIDaction is looking to involve anyone responsible for developing product innovation to co-create fledgling ideas and product developments around the issues outlined above.

We’ll be running short sprints with practitioners who have diverse perspectives on the challenges to collectively understand the ideal product specifications and methodology for success.

If you feel like medical device innovation is sometimes a long and uncertain journey, then please consider joining us. There are many innovators doing great work across the globe. Sparking useful connections and learning within a wide reaching network can catalyse progress. Participating in the CoLab‘s collective mission means staying in tune with an evolving innovation space and continuous connection with the wider market.

How can you get involved?

We’re currently working to identify and map innovators who are working on designing, manufacturing, supplying parts, or any other part of the process to create oxygen concentrators in order to create an innovation pipeline and map opportunities for grant funding and support packages.

No matter where you are, or what part of oxygen concentrator production you are involved with, we want to know more about what you are doing and how this might be supported — or if you can support others working in the same area.

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Hollie Dobson

Hollie Dobson is an Innovation Lead at Brink working within COVIDaction to create the Oxygen CoLab.