Oxygen is included on the World Health Organization (WHO) list of essential medicines.Although it is listed under anaesthetic agents, oxygen has broad indications and should be in a class of its own, perhaps the only drug with no alternative agent. In its guidelines, the WHO emphasises the importance of oxygen within the necessary package of providing care for seriously ill children, and for emergency, anaesthesia and surgical services in district and provincial hospitals. Administration of oxygen at the point of care requires a source, such as an oxygen concentrator or cylinder, and equipment for delivery, such as tubing, face mask or nasal prongs. Although it is a treatment that is a basic requirement to save the lives of seriously ill patients, oxygen is rarely available in primary care facilities and is often lacking in district hospitals. Health authorities should ensure that oxygen equipment is available and included in their health planning budget for any health facility where seriously ill patients may present.