Global Surgery team work

An email pings in from Boston, USA – subject: Oximeter to India?

As l read Lifebox chair and co-founder Atul Gawande’s editorial published in the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery I am reminded of this moment: our part in a global chain reaction sparked in  desperate response to the challenges faced by Dr Shrikant Jaiswal, first and only anaesthetist at Umarkhed Hospital in India.

Lancet Commission on Global Surgery

Umarkhed is the closest hospital to the rural village where Atul’s father grew up.  It serves a community of over 60,000 people in the town and a quarter million others in surrounding areas, and, as he wrote in a recent Lancet article  “like so many hospitals in low-income settings, [it did] not have essential monitoring systems – even just a pulse oximeter.”

Pulse oximeters are the single most important monitors in modern anaesthesia, allowing healthcare workers to ensure their patients are adequately oxygenated and stable. The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery, a year-long, collaborative research effort into the issue chose pulse oximetry as a proxy measure for safety in surgery: it’s a machine with enormous practical and symbolic value, and a key component of Lifebox’s safer surgery work. 

Oximetry_Tanzania_2013_Haydom Lutheran Hospital (1)

“Listening to Dr Jaiswal on the phone, I realised that for all the communities Lifebox had helped, we had not helped the community where my own family had come from,” Atul wrote in the Lancet.

“How fast could we get three oximeters to reach the frontline in India?” he wrote to us.

This moment also represents team work – it shows how a small group of people working together in a shoebox office in London respond to the needs of medical professionals, like Jaiswal, all over the world.

Countries worldwide

Since 2011, Lifebox has distributed nearly 9000 pulse oximeters to hospitals in 90 countries – working with anaesthetists, surgeons and healthcare professionals across low and high resource settings to ensure that more communities have access to safer surgery.


When Atul’s email came in, the next step was to pass on to Lifebox Procurement Manager, Remy Turc. Remy handles the distribution of pulse oximeters, ensuring that this essential piece of monitoring equipment makes its way from our manufacturer in Taiwan, to hospitals in low resource settings.

2015_Remy oximeter team2_April_Acare Taiwan visit_Remy Turc

“I gave Lifebox Jaiswal’s address and made a donation for three oximeters to be delivered,” explained Atul.

Thanks to a collaborative effort, in just over a week Jaiswal received the three pulse oximeters he so desperately needed in order to provide life-saving treatment – one for the operating theatre, one for the labour ward and one for the recovery room.

His story powerfully demonstrates the changing global health landscape. For the first time in history you’re more likely to be killed by a surgically treatable condition than a communicable disease; but in low resource settings surgery can be a challenge to access and desperately unsafe.

The recent launch of the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery, culminating in a report that aims to put the problems of essential surgery at the heart of the global health agenda offers a rallying call – Universal access to safe and affordable surgical and anaesthesia care for all when needed.

5 billion Lancet

According to this report five billion people cannot access safe surgery when they need it, with 33 million others facing catastrophic expenditures paying for surgery and anaesthesia annually.

33 million - Lancet

There are huge challenges ahead but the dedication of people like Jaiswal is what keeps us going here at Lifebox. We are committed to the distribution of essential monitoring equipment, education and training – to saving lives though safer surgery.

To learn more about what we do click here.


Target 80

How long does it take to count down from 77,000?

Well, in the 18 months since we got this global pulse oximetry gap in our sights and set out to Make It 0, we’ve knocked more than 3000 off the target!  Thanks to the generosity of Lifebox donors and the dedication of our colleagues worldwide, the number of operating rooms without access to a single pulse oximeter is getting smaller day by day.

Lifebox pulse oximeter #2992

But each oximeter we send out is more than just a number crossed off a target.  Every box has a story behind it – someone’s sweat, heart and dedication sent that essential equipment on its way, often thousands of miles by air and bumpy road, to the door of a hospital, into the hands of an anaesthesia provider who will use it to safeguard hundreds of lives – and help ensure that many more surgical patients live to tell their own stories.

Let’s take a look at the sweat, heart and dedication that went in to one of the largest individual donations Lifebox has received yet – 88 pulse oximeters from the Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine at The Alfred hospital in Melbourne, Australia!

(image courtesy of ANZCA)

Do you follow us on Twitter (@safersurgery)?  If you do you’ll have noticed, like us, a persistent hashtag that appeared a few months ago.  #target80.  Thousands of miles away a countdown – or a count up? – had begun…

“As anaesthetists we possess a unique skill set which, given the right circumstances, we can use to aid those less fortunate,” explained consultant anaesthetist Dr Jamie Smart, one of the driving forces behind the department’s fundraising success.  “For the majority of us such opportunities seldom arise due to the conflicting time demands of work, family, and other life events.  Through the Lifebox Foundation, members of our department have been able to contribute in a small, but significant way, to providing safer surgery in areas of need.”

(image courtesy of ANZCA)

“Lifebox first came to our attention at Anesthesiology 2011 in Chicago last October, during Atul Gawande’s inspiring plenary lecture.  However it was over a steak and a few glasses of excellent Argentinean Malbec at this year’s World Congress of Anaesthesiologists (WCA), that the seeds of our campaign were first sown.

Our strategy was simple.  We would simply ask each member of our department to donate $250 for one pulse oximeter, or any amount they could afford.

From the moment the first email was sent alerting department members to our campaign, the response was overwhelming.  Donations poured in from specialists, trainees, nursing staff and even some of our surgical colleagues.

(image courtesy of ANZCA)

By the end of May, with little work but a lot of generosity, we exceeded our target.  A total of $22,130 was raised – enough to fund 88 Lifebox pulse oximeters, enabling the provision of safer surgery on a daily basis.

I encourage all anaesthetic departments to follow our lead and to try to match our efforts.  For just $250 a Lifebox oximeter can be delivered to an area of need and put to immediate use.  There are many ways to spend $250, but very few that are more worthwhile.”

Celebrating an enormous contribution to safer surgery worldwide at the Australian Society of Anaesthetists meeting this month

We are enormously grateful to Jamie, his colleagues at The Alfred, and the Australian Society of Anaesthetists (ASA), who supported the #target80 campaign – and we hope you’ll take his advice and get counting!