An email pings in from Boston, USA – subject: Oximeter to India?
As l read Lifebox chair and co-founder Atul Gawande’s editorial published in the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery I am reminded of this moment: our part in a global chain reaction sparked in desperate response to the challenges faced by Dr Shrikant Jaiswal, first and only anaesthetist at Umarkhed Hospital in India.
Umarkhed is the closest hospital to the rural village where Atul’s father grew up. It serves a community of over 60,000 people in the town and a quarter million others in surrounding areas, and, as he wrote in a recent Lancet article “like so many hospitals in low-income settings, [it did] not have essential monitoring systems – even just a pulse oximeter.”
Pulse oximeters are the single most important monitors in modern anaesthesia, allowing healthcare workers to ensure their patients are adequately oxygenated and stable. The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery, a year-long, collaborative research effort into the issue chose pulse oximetry as a proxy measure for safety in surgery: it’s a machine with enormous practical and symbolic value, and a key component of Lifebox’s safer surgery work.
“Listening to Dr Jaiswal on the phone, I realised that for all the communities Lifebox had helped, we had not helped the community where my own family had come from,” Atul wrote in the Lancet.
“How fast could we get three oximeters to reach the frontline in India?” he wrote to us.
This moment also represents team work – it shows how a small group of people working together in a shoebox office in London respond to the needs of medical professionals, like Jaiswal, all over the world.
Since 2011, Lifebox has distributed nearly 9000 pulse oximeters to hospitals in 90 countries – working with anaesthetists, surgeons and healthcare professionals across low and high resource settings to ensure that more communities have access to safer surgery.
When Atul’s email came in, the next step was to pass on to Lifebox Procurement Manager, Remy Turc. Remy handles the distribution of pulse oximeters, ensuring that this essential piece of monitoring equipment makes its way from our manufacturer in Taiwan, to hospitals in low resource settings.
“I gave Lifebox Jaiswal’s address and made a donation for three oximeters to be delivered,” explained Atul.
Thanks to a collaborative effort, in just over a week Jaiswal received the three pulse oximeters he so desperately needed in order to provide life-saving treatment – one for the operating theatre, one for the labour ward and one for the recovery room.
His story powerfully demonstrates the changing global health landscape. For the first time in history you’re more likely to be killed by a surgically treatable condition than a communicable disease; but in low resource settings surgery can be a challenge to access and desperately unsafe.
The recent launch of the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery, culminating in a report that aims to put the problems of essential surgery at the heart of the global health agenda offers a rallying call – Universal access to safe and affordable surgical and anaesthesia care for all when needed.
According to this report five billion people cannot access safe surgery when they need it, with 33 million others facing catastrophic expenditures paying for surgery and anaesthesia annually.
There are huge challenges ahead but the dedication of people like Jaiswal is what keeps us going here at Lifebox. We are committed to the distribution of essential monitoring equipment, education and training – to saving lives though safer surgery.
To learn more about what we do click here.