Lifebox in Guatemala

Lifebox has worked in Central America’s most populated nation to take safer surgical care countrywide

The tropical country of Guatemala lies between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and is Central America’s most populated country. It has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in Latin America as well as the continent’s youngest – almost half of the population is under 19 years old.

“The patients we’re saving are actually very young and have the potential for many, many years ahead – their whole lives, really,” explains Professor Alan Merry, Lifebox Foundation trustee.  “They’re people having highly correctable, life-saving surgery – a C-section for example – and if they get through it they’ll live another 30, 40 years.” When talking about the value of surgery as compared to other healthcare interventions, Guatemala is a prime example.

In 2013, of Guatemala’s  44 hospitals,  29 departmental hospitals were functioning entirely without pulse oximetry. The reality of this number is a risk that anaesthesia providers in the US or UK would never have to face – providing intraoperative care “listening by ear” or delaying urgent surgery by referring patients to another hospital with monitoring.

“When they donated the Lifebox pulse oximeters we saw a beautiful change. I wanted to thank you directly for the donation because we live in a country that lacks resources. If we didn’t have this type of donation I think we would be in a bigger problem. My country is really beautiful, the people work a lot and is very rich in many things, but we lack in other things. I appreciate your gesture, and I wanted to tell you that the most grateful people are the patients.”

Luis, anaesthesiologist, Quetzaltenango National Hospital

Under the leadership of Dr Sandra Izquierdo, past President of the Guatemalan Anaesthesiology Society, a needs assessment was carried out to ascertain Guatemala’s oximetry gap. 140 oximeters were needed to ensure every operating room was equipped with this essential monitoring device .

In partnership with Asociación Guatemalteca de Anestesiología Reanimación y Tratamiento del Dolor, Lifebox hosted a training workshop with more than 40 anaesthetists from 33 national hospitals in Guatemala City. With funding from the American Society of Anesthesiologists, Lifebox distributed 140 pulse oximeters – effectively meeting Guatemala’s oximetry need.

Subsequent follow-up visits in 2014 and 2015 have demonstrated the success of Lifebox’s work, with all but two oximeters still in use and functioning (these faulty devices were replaced) and with every provider reporting an improvement in the safety of anaesthesia care and a reduction in hypoxic events

“I want to thank Lifebox because in remote places far from the city where we attend patients, an oximeter can save the life of a person in the operating room. I think that the fact that oximeters have reached the most remote areas with this project has been a blessing – it is a big responsibility to have another person’s life in your hands.

When I came to this hospital, it didn’t have any oximeter or monitor. I wouldn’t take the risk to attend a patient under these conditions – with the exception that it is a real emergency and that there is no other alternative – without a single pulse oximeter.

Pulse oximetry is definitely an indispensable weapon.”

Iris Anaeli Gámez Solano, anaesthesiologist, National Hospital of Quiché