Safe Surgery Innovations in Uganda

A three-minute checklist, a simple device to measure oxygen in patients’ blood, and a drill cover are improving surgery.

The global burden of disease caused by treatable surgical conditions is twice that of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. The solution is simple: more surgeries. 

Yet almost one in three people, mainly the world’s poorest, have no access to surgery.

And without access to appropriate equipment and training, a life-saving operation can quickly become a life-threatening one.

In Uganda, we see how the use of a simple pulse oximeter, a cheap drill cover and a basic, three-minute checklist is proving that universal access to essential surgery can be safe and affordable.

In the developed world, 100 percent of all operations carried out today utilise a pulse oximeter. This simple medical device monitors the level of oxygen in a patient’s blood and alerts the staff to any unsafe changes.

Yet, worldwide, there are as many as 70,000 operating rooms that do not have a pulse oximeter. That means around six million lives are at risk every year.

The NGO Lifebox has pioneered a cheap and easy-to-use pulse oximeter and is distributing them to hospitals across Uganda to help create safer surgery.

Last year, Ugandan hospitals admitted well over 10,000 road accident patients, which are costing the Ugandan government hundreds of millions of dollars in orthopaedic surgery and lost work hours. Delays can last weeks, partly owing to a lack of expensive surgical equipment, with most patients left unable to work in the interim.

We see how a simple, cheap and innovative drill cover is helping surgeons use a household drill to perform surgery quickly and efficiently.

And Ugandan hospitals are improving surgery by adopting the surgical safety checklist drafted by the World Health Organisation. Developed in 2008, this set of checks to use in operating theatres around the world, was created to reduce the risk of the most common errors and save lives. Research consistently shows that the checklist reduces the rate of death and surgical complications by more than one-third.

Join Dr Javid Abdelmoneim in Uganda to see how these simple tools are bringing safe and affordable surgery to those who would otherwise not be able to afford it.