Surgery has long been known as ‘the neglected stepchild of global health’, but let us introduce you to her forgotten sister, Anaesthesia.
Anaesthesia doesn’t enter the room on her own when global health is discussed, she is hidden behind Surgery, and both are often seated in the corner. Why, you may ask, is this the case? Anaesthesia is a distinct and essential part of the operating room, ensuring patients make it through the procedure safely and without feeling pain. Anaesthesiologists are vital in ensuring patients stay alive after surgery too.
They also provide resuscitation and stabilisation of patients in the Emergency Department and in the Intensive Care Unit, they provide pain relief for women in labour, transport acutely ill and injured patients, plus a lot more. In the UK, anaesthesiologists come into contact with two thirds of all hospital patients.
So why put Anaesthesia in the corner?
The WFSA (World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists) is naturally very proud of the role of anaesthesia plays in global health and we have been working on improving education, research and safety in the field for 60 years. However, this year anaesthesiology has gained major recognition in international discussions on the future of global health. We are, of course, very excited about this attention. Perhaps we are still with Surgery in the corner of the room, but we are beginning to jump up and down, waving excitedly, to make the most of this deserved attention.
The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery told the world what we already knew; people are dying because they don’t have access to safe and accessible anaesthesia and surgery. Specifically 16.9 million people every year. 16,900,000.
This figure is four times higher than the number of people dying annually from malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis combined. It is only 600,000 fewer annual deaths than the number one global killer, cardiovascular diseases. Yet these facts are not well known.
A lack of training in anaesthesia, along with a lack of vital anaesthesia equipment in low and middle income countries, is a huge part of what is making this number, and other statistics, so shockingly high.
And they are shocking. We are beginning to see global trends of non-communicable diseases, such cancer and heart disease, on the rise in low and middle income countries, while we see deaths from infectious diseases fall. When there is no trained anaesthesiologist or no equipment to make sure the patient is safe during relatively simple operations such a caesarean section, a compound fracture, or a laparotomy, the number of deaths will rise, and keep rising.
The WSFA is determined to change that.
This September we are celebrating 60 years since the Federation was founded. It is undeniable that progress in global anaesthesia has been made since then, but we have a long way to go. It is simply unacceptable that so many people are still dying in circumstances that can be so easily improved.
With anaesthesiologists so willing to learn, equipment so cost effective, and scale up beneficial to everybody, solutions are available.
Sadly, governmental and charitable spending does not accurately reflect the global need, but imagine what could be achieved if we could invest more money in global anaesthesia and surgery in order to change the outcome for millions of people.
The WFSA has helped train thousands of anaesthesia providers by providing scholarships, grants and training to students from countries all over the world. We have successfully advocated for anaesthesia to have a more prominent framework in global health agendas, and now we will do more.
As our organisation expands, so too does our capacity to be a strong voice in advocating for safe and affordable access to anaesthesia. Our blog will share stories of this mission.
Anaesthesia will come to the table, write a blog or two every week about the importance and value of action, and unite a global community of people who strive to improve global health for future generations.
Please subscribe to the WFSA blog to be part of our exciting story.