Oxygen monitoring halves child pneumonia deaths

Hamish Graham, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, University of Melbourne

Targeted oxygen therapy could save the lives of thousands of children. Melbourne researcher Hamish Graham says the key is identifying the children who need it most. He found that providing Nigerian hospitals with equipment and training to measure blood oxygen levels has halved the number of children dying from pneumonia.

Hamish, a paediatrician who has worked in Sudan and Nigeria, is now working to make oxygen—a treatment we take for granted in Australia—available to every child who needs it. 

Hamish is one of three finalists for the inaugural CSL Florey Next Generation Award, with a $20,000 prize. The Award, supported by CSL Limited, will be conferred to a current PhD candidate who has demonstrated outstanding capability, creativity and potential in the biomedical sciences, health and medical research.

Oxygen therapy can save the lives of children hospitalised with pneumonia, malaria, meningitis and other conditions. Hamish’s research and his experiences as a doctor have shown that knowing which children need oxygen the most is vitally important for hospitals in developing countries where oxygen supplies are limited.

Hamish’s work with 12 Nigerian hospitals has found that supplying pulse oximeters—clip-on devices that measure a person’s pulse and blood oxygen saturation—and the training to use them is as important as supplying oxygen itself.

“We’ve found that giving nurses pulse oximeters so they can identify which children need oxygen is really the key to improving how oxygen is used. We’ve seen oxygen access improve significantly, we’ve seen lives saved and we’ve answered some important research questions.”

Hamish’s research has found this approach can halve the deaths of children admitted to hospital with pneumonia. He says the next steps are building those changes into policy in Africa and beyond.

“The Nigerian government has been changing its policies. Now we want to work with the World Health Organization to make sure pulse oximetry is part of routine care for every sick child that comes to hospital.”

Photographs of Hamish Graham

Hamish Graham (Photo credit: University of Melbourne)

Hamish Graham with Dr Ayede, neonatologist and project partner, in Nigeria (Photo credit: Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)