Pulse oximeters for Burundi

American anaesthesiologist, Dr Gregory Sund is on a mission to help bring Lifebox pulse oximeters to every hospital in Burundi. We caught up with him recently and this is what we learned.

What motivated you to support Lifebox?

I was motivated to support Lifebox because I was able to see first-hand the massive importance of the work they do. I have many stories of patients (especially children) whose lives were saved because of the oximeters donated to our hospital by Lifebox.

How did you get involved in supporting Lifebox pulse oximeter distribution in Burundi?

Although I had heard of Lifebox through communications published by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), it was not until 2014 that I became more directly involved with the work they are doing. At that time, my family and I had decided to spend 9 months working at a rural mission hospital in Kibuye, Burundi. Burundi is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and is greatly in need of training and development in the healthcare sector. We joined a team of American missionary physicians supported by Serge, a US based mission agency, working alongside Burundian physicians in teaching and training East African medical students.

Before departing for Burundi, our team surgeon informed me that the capacity for monitoring intraoperatively and postoperatively was extremely limited. I contacted Lifebox and they were eager to help, providing me with six pulse oximeters, three for our rural hospital and for another hospital in the capital affiliated with us.

During our time there (as well as during two subsequent trips) I have witnessed the lifesaving importance of these Lifebox pulse oximeters. Before their arrival, we had no ability to monitor oxygen saturation post-operatively and the existing pulse oximeters used in the operating room were marginally functional (often not functioning at all for small children). On an almost weekly basis I watched these oximeters trigger interventions which were truly lifesaving, and I am now deeply grateful for the work that Lifebox is doing to save lives in the developing world.

What do you hope to achieve through your fundraising?

Our current hope is to expand the distribution of these oximeters to every hospital in Burundi. We know that at many hospitals in this country, anesthesia and surgery is performed without any monitors, and that with the addition of a pulse oximeter in the hands of an anesthetist who is trained how to interpret this data, more lives will be saved. My family and I feel called to return to Burundi to serve long-term alongside the team there, and will be resettling there in August. Through my collaboration with a Burundian anesthetist who I had the privilege of working with during my time there previously, our hope is to raise the funds for approximately 80 pulse oximeters, which will be distributed to Burundian anesthetists around the country. Our plan is to have a national training session for each anesthetist who receives a pulse oximeter in order to train them how to read and interpret the data from these oximeters and then how to intervene.

Why is it important for you to support colleagues in low-resource settings?

As described in great detail by the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery, there are millions of people dying every year for lack of safe and affordable anesthesia and surgery. In my eyes it is a great injustice that one could lose a family member, a son or a daughter, simply as a result of where you happened to be born. I feel compelled to do whatever I can to work toward ending this injustice. I am deeply grateful for Lifebox, an organization taking a critical step toward the same goal.

What does safe anaesthesia mean to you?

For me, safe anesthesia means the capacity to deliver a person through a common surgical procedure with the ability to detect and treat common complications associated with that procedure. I believe in the year 2017, safe anesthesia is a right that all people deserve.