The World We Want 2015

It’s a magnificent proposition.  Go on: design the world you want your children to grow up in.

World we want

Just remember that you can’t choose their sex, their race, their long- or latitude.  And you don’t know their characters, their ideas, their – well, you don’t know anything about what they really want, do you?  You just need to know that, wherever and whoever they are, they’ve got the best shot at a life and let living.

Back in 2000, eight priority areas and associated targets were identified to take a generation closer to this fair start: the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


(c) US Mission Geneva

With just 2.85 years (and counting) to go until these targets expire, the penalty for missing the mark will be paid by those who they were intended to support.

So we better get the next plan underway.

Lifebox is proud to have submitted a paper to “The World We Want 2015,” a joint platform between the United Nations and Civil Society (that’s you!  And us!) conceived as a forum – or even a movement – for “people all over the world contributing their vision towards an overall plan to build a just and sustainable world free from poverty.”

Our concern is, of course, health; and more specifically, the essential but neglected role that surgery plays in healthcare.


An estimated 56 million people require surgery in Africa alone, resulting in 25 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).  There’s no devil’s advocacy in pointing out the fact that this is close to double the number of people infected with HIV worldwide (33 million), a health crisis that has long and rightly been recognized as such. Our paper aims to draw similar attention to the crisis of unmet surgical need in low-resource settings.

Back in 2000, surgery was bundled with the “other diseases” of MDG 6, when in actual fact it’s a tool that can be used to achieve certain targets.

MDG5, for example, maternal health, for example, is a gospel priority, with great improvements made over the last decade.  “But levels are far from the 2015 target.”

One of the barriers is surely a numbers game, with the odds stacked: the recommended c-section rate is 5-15 percent of deliveries, but rates from low-resource countries are drastically lower than this – just 0.6 percent in Ethiopia.  Without broader access to safe surgery, maternal health targets will never be met.


(c) Amber Lucero-Dwyer/Lifebox Foundation

So it’s certainly a big step forward to see the words “surgical capacity” appearing twice in the draft report, released this month as the next stage in the WWW2015 online consultation on health.  This is in reference to the infrastructure required to build national health systems and the “needed services” to meet the goal of Universal Health Coverage (UCH).

And then comes the call for comment.

We strongly echo the response from Jaymie Henry  on behalf of the International Collaboration for Essential Surgery (ICES), which calls for a higher-level of attention to surgery as a primary care component, and the emphasis on training this requires.

We strongly echo the rationale from Kathleen Casey, founding director of Operation Giving Back, who wrote last year in JAMA that  “greater provision of quality surgical care averts lifelong disability, prevents death and ameliorates the conditions of poverty.”

We strongly state that infrastructure and improving access to safe anaesthesia is an essential component of safe surgery, and that this is a universal right.

The back-story behind the development of the first round of MDGs, without denigrating their impact, is rather more back-of-a-napkin than might be expected. (Positives: agile.  Negatives: last-minute corridor dash to include the environment on the list.)

Sequels are usually a more scrutinized story, and this time the consultation is on a massive and laborious scale.  (Negatives: massive and laborious.  Positives: this conversation affects all of us, and we need to fling open the doors.)

Rwanda view

We’ll be watching closely, and joining in where we can.  And we’ll continue to distribute pulse oximeters and training in oximetry and the World Health Organization’s Surgical Safety Checklist, and strive to close the global pulse oximetry gap.  The numerous organizations that have submitted comments to the thematic consultation will likewise continue the work that made them passionate enough about global health to comment in the first place.

Because there’s a long way to go in closing the gap between the world we want and the world we’ve got; we can talk while we work.

Oximeter in surgery


Thank you

They say that the recession is affecting charitable giving.

We say, have you met the readers of the British Medical Journal.

Over the last two months, a stationer’s rainbow of envelopes has greeted our mornings and a rush of online donations have cheered our afternoons (sometimes we actually cheered!)

Generous readers have raised more than £26,000 for Lifebox.

Rwanda_oximeter training

That’s more than 160 pulse oximeters for hospitals in low-resource settings currently delivering surgery without this essential monitoring.  That’s spare probes to extend the life-saving lifespan of the oximeters, and training for anaesthesia providers to ensure that the equipment is used to its fullest, essential function.

We are enormously grateful to everyone who gave – familiar friends from the previous year’s campaign, new names we are delighted to get to know, and every modest Anonymous in between, to whom we are immodestly thankful.

We’re equally grateful to the BMJ for this opportunity.  We’ve worked hard with staff at the journal to show you why your contribution is needed, and what your generosity allows us to do.

BMJ_landing page_screenshot_thanks BMJ

You’ve helped us effectively turn the lights on for anaesthesia providers in Togo, with a donation of 113 oximeters – enough for every operating theatre in the country:

“Before he had a pulse oximeter he felt like an airplane pilot without a radar,” our colleague explained of one of the nurse anaesthetists.  “Now he has an oximeter he has a radar; now he can see where he is going.”

You’ve helped strengthen communities, given medical anaesthetists in El Salvador the opportunity to practically support their technician colleagues across the country, making anaesthesia safer for everyone.


In the last two months we’ve explored a rationale for pulse oximetry that spans decades, from “another preventable perioperative death in a hospital in central Africa in 1986” without monitoring, to an operation in the same country more than 20 years later where a pulse oximeter from Lifebox directly saved a life.

Experts have taken us behind the scenes to the frustratingly full-and-wrongly-stocked store cupboards at low-resource setting hospitals, and donors and recipients have taken us cross-continents, showing how directly and immediately your donation can make a difference.

Unused hospital equipment West Africa

Every single feature, podcast and blog from the campaign is available here on our website.  We hope you’ll take a moment to browse, and join us in marveling at how widespread and complex the surgical safety crisis can be, and at how many incredible individuals are fighting to make a difference.

We hope you’ll stay tuned this year to see what happens next!

With sincere thanks from everyone at Lifebox.