Feature BMJ Lifebox Appeal

A pulse oximeter for every operating theatre in India

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f676 (Published 04 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f676
  1. Kounteya Sinha, London correspondent
  1. 1Times of India
  1. ksinha78{at}gmail.com

To make anaesthesia and surgery safer for patients, the global charity Lifebox wants to distribute pulse oximeters at low cost or for free wherever they are needed, writes Kounteya Sinha

A machine no bigger than a mobile phone has become one of the most important medical devices in safe surgical care, making anaesthesia safer. The machine is the pulse oximeter. It checks a patient’s blood oxygen concentration and sounds an alarm if it changes by as little as 1%. Without oximeters clinicians may not notice signs of hypoxia until patients become cyanosed, when oxygen saturation is already damagingly low.

Introduced in 1985, pulse oximeters were rapidly adopted by anaesthetists as a universal standard of care in operating theatres; emergency, recovery, and neonatal units; and (especially paediatric) wards. But even now, more than 77 000 operating rooms worldwide lack them. The proportion of theatres working without a pulse oximeter ranges from 41% in Latin America, to 49% in South Asia, to 70% in sub-Saharan Africa.1 Lack of adequate monitoring means that tens of thousands of lives are lost every year.

The World Health Organization says that 234 million operations take place every year globally.2 And the number is on the rise. About seven million people around the globe have preventable surgical injuries every year, and a million of them die during or immediately after surgery.2

This inspired Atul Gawande, born in New York …

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