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3 Questions with Markos Layton: Ensuring Oxygen Availability to Save Lives

| 4 Minute Read
Health Supply Chains
Global Health Supply Chains
As the world enters a second year grappling with COVID-19, Oxygen Deputy Team Lead Markos Layton explains how we are supporting the procurement and distribution of one of the globe’s most vital commodities, life-saving oxygen.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, oxygen has been a critical global commodity used to relieve patients of acute respiratory difficulties caused by the virus. Following the recent release of the USAID Implementation Plan for the U.S. COVID-19 Global Response and Recovery Framework, we sat down with Oxygen Deputy Team Lead Markos Layton to hear about his work with the USAID Global Health Supply Chain Program-Procurement and Supply Management (GHSC-PSM) project’s Oxygen (O2) Activity.

1. Tell us about the Oxygen Activity and how it came about?

USAID issued technical direction to Chemonics to support identified countries through the provision of assistance in the O2 sector in response to COVID-19, specifically to:

  • Support the coordination of in-country oxygen supply activities
  • Procure oxygen-related equipment and supplies – such as Pressure Swing Absorption (PSA) Plants, cylinders, and oxygen delivery consumables durables
  • Provide clinical and non-clinical technical assistance to host-country counterparts related to maintenance of oxygen equipment and its use in clinical care for COVID-19 patients

It has been a challenging but incredibly rewarding activity. Through this activity, we had to learn about a new commodity sector, learn about the products we had to procure, and establish relationships with new suppliers. As part of this initiative, in June 2021 Procurement Specialist Ellen Airozo and I visited Airsep – a medical equipment and supplies manufacturing facility in Buffalo, NY – to observe factory acceptance testing, meet their team, and understand the products they manufacture more deeply. Oxygen is a drug and there are medical standards and quality standards that we needed to adhere to deliver these lifesaving commodities safely and successfully to those who need them most. 

Meanwhile, we had to navigate a host of rapidly changing COVID-19 challenges, pivoting and adapting to immediately kick-off sourcing events to respond quickly to the needs in target countries under this emergency program. Given the incredible spike in demand for oxygen-related commodities globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was tremendous pressure to work efficiently at every point in the supply chain to ensure we could get products to where they were needed in a timely manner.

Procurement Specialist Ellen Airozo (right) learns about oxygen equipment at the Airsep manufacturing facility in June 2021.

2. What has been a key component in the continued success of this critical venture?

As a result of the impacts of COVID-19 on the supply chain, product availability, freight lines, port congestion, container shortages, and space on shipping vessels were all adversely affected and presented challenges. We had to navigate this space with a new host of suppliers while responding to client needs, desperate to get these commodities to countries and facilities with critical O2 needs.

Throughout all of this, at every point in our work, the relationships we established with manufacturers and suppliers and our close collaboration with USAID allowed us to adapt and pivot quickly and effectively.

Looking at the market for O2 commodities, there are very few manufacturers that can produce these lifesaving commodities that meet the defined quality standards. By having a thorough contracting and selection process, we were successful in identifying appropriate suppliers with strong in-country service representatives to not only ensure the successful installation and commissioning of equipment and training of facility staff on safe-use of oxygen generating equipment such as PSAs and oxygen concentrators, but also, and more importantly, that the equipment is maintained according to manufacturer recommended standards and guidelines. The supplier relationship is essential to the sustainability of the equipment.

Related particularly to the more complex PSA plants and bulk liquid oxygen, GHSC-PSM has played a pivotal role at the country level ensuring extensive coordination, working closely with USAID/Washington, Missions, suppliers, and in-country partners and stakeholders.  This has not only been key to the successful deployment of the equipment but also tantamount to the overall success of the oxygen program to date.

Then, engaging with the host country government is also critical. We need to know that our in-country stakeholders are confident that the equipment meets their needs, they understand how the product operates and have their sites ready to receive the PSAs to install and commission the equipment, and staff are trained to be able to operate them safely. Their commitment is vital to in-country success.

3. What is a successful innovation or outcome you can share from this project thus far?

The O2 activity developed an innovative tool that was initially piloted by a [GHSC-PSM] COVID-19 procurement initiative started in 2020. We call it our “Oxygen Dashboard.” It has been a gamechanger in terms of enhancing end-to-end visibility of our order fulfillment under the oxygen activity.

A screenshot of the Oxygen Dashboard, which enhances end-to-end visibility of oxygen order fulfillment.

The dashboard presents [supply chain] data from our in-house management information system – ARTMIS – in a user-friendly format. The tool includes pertinent details of every order line for each country and commodity type. We can see progress of the current 300 order lines, where we are throughout the order fulfillment stages all the way to delivery. In addition, we track expenditures against funding ceilings by country at the same level and granularity and, with a financial lens, track our progress against our programmatic objectives. When we have experienced upstream manufacturing delays and freight cost changes, we can stay current with this tool. We have provided broad access to our USAID counterparts to view this information which they use consistently.

Posts on the blog represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Chemonics. 

Banner image caption: Procurement Specialist Ellen Airozo (left) and Oxygen Deputy Team Lead Markos Layton (right) stand in front of oxygen equipment at Airsep manufacturing facility in June 2021.


About Markos Layton

Markos Layton is the Oxygen Deputy Team Lead.