Vanderbilting bridges: from Tennessee to Kenya

Members of the Department of Anesthesiology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Tennessee, don’t need to be told about the critical state of anaesthesia in low-resource settings – lack of providers, scarcity of the right drugs and equipment, the shocking mortality statistics  – thanks to the Vanderbilt International Anesthesia (VIA) programme, many have seen it for themselves.

Check out the video on the VIA home page, which focuses on Vanderbilt’s relationship with the Kijabe Hospital, in Kenya.  Panning down crowded hospital corridors, the images are stark and the voices are shocked.

“What do you do with a girl that needs a caesarean section?” VIA director Dr Mark Newton recalls asking a clinician at the hospital. “He said rather nonchalantly, ‘she just dies.’

“She just dies.”

But things are changing.  Kijabe Hospital sees 10,000 cases a year: that’s a lot of medical provision, and a lot of opportunity to teach. Newton splits his time between paediatric anaesthesia at Vanderbilt and chief anethesiologist duties at Kijabe, where he has developed a nurse anesthesia training programme.  Training nurses to deliver anesthesia is particularly important for rural areas, where lack of anesthetic provision is a constant crisis.   He’s assisted by Kenyan faculty, and medical staff from Vanderbilt who visit Kijabe (and a number of other sites in low-resource settings worldwide) to train, educate and learn.

The American Medical Association Foundation (AMA) took notice of Vanderbilt’s work and Newton’s travel schedule – in February they awarded him an Excellence in Medicine Award.  As well as the grand title, this award came with a cash prize, and Lifebox was thrilled when Newton asked to spend his award on pulse oximeters for Kenya!

“We can directly save lives with a mere $250 pulse oximeter which is designed for the rugged environment of Africa,” Newton told the AMA Foundation Quarterly last month.

10 oximeters touched down briefly in the U.S., before setting of for East Africa, where they are already hard at work – but this is only the beginning…

The Department of Anesthesiology will soon begin a fundraising drive to purchase additional pulse oximeters.  “Our target for the 2012-2013 academic year is to purchase a minimum of 200,” explained Dr Newton.  “Our graduating Kenyan Registered Nurse Anesthetists can then take these devices with them to use as they provide medical care throughout their careers.”

Vanderbilt Anesthesiology Chair Warren Sandberg, and residents Drs. Joseph Schlesinger, Brett Campbell, Jace Perkerson, and Justin Wright with some of the first pulse oximeters to be sent to Kijabe, Kenya, for use in the field.

“We are thrilled at Lifebox to be working with Vanderbilt University to provide pulse oximeters and essential training to anaesthesia providers in Kenya,” said Lifebox chairman, Dr Atul Gawande.  “They face critical gaps in resources and knowledge, and this work will save lives.”

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