What’s the craic?

For the third year running, Lifebox ran to sign up and attend the Rotary International in Great Britain & Ireland Conference – now in its 90th year, dignified and dedicated as ever!

More than 1,500 Rotarians from across the country gathered in sunny Belfast at the Waterfront Conference Centre, a grand venue with its toes on the edge of the beautiful River Lagan. They came for a weekend of talks, presentations, voting – and of course to support worthy causes both in the UK and around the world.

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We were thrilled to share our safer surgery story, and to stand amongst a number of great organisations, including our good friends Mercy Ships, who we’ve recently worked with in Madagascar.

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There are two important things we’ve learnt about Rotarians over the last few years: firstly, they’re a network of enthusiast, caring individuals with a passion to support communities around the world. From providing humanitarian assistance to fundraising for local hospices, Rotary clubs and members engage with a diverse range of community issues.

Secondly, Rotarians appreciate practical initiatives – and we are not too humble to admit that the Lifebox pulse oximeter was a crowd pleaser at this year’s conference! Rotarians beelined to our stand to get their blood oxygen saturation checked, lured by the bright yellow box in middle of the table.

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Most had a number of questions about our work, summed up in typical Irish style: What’s the craic? (No translation necessary for the initiated and quick clarification for the rest of you!)

Our response: safer surgery of course.

As word spread about the pulse oximeter, thanks to the help of Lifebox champions/dedicated Rotarians/proud parents Lindsay and Barbara Bashford, more and more people visited our stand to learn how this vital piece of equipment is saving lives.

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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.

Thanks to Rotarians’ generous support, more pulse oximeters are now whizzing across the globe to hospitals where they are desperately needed. We are closing the pulse oximetry gap slowly but surely, and we won’t stop until every operating theatre in a low-resource setting has this essential monitoring tool, the training to use it appropriately, and the safety systems in place that keep patients safe.

We had a wonderful time in Belfast meeting all the Rotarians who are helping us to make safe surgery happen, finding new Rotary friends and learning about the diverse range of projects they support. We hope they enjoyed meeting us too.

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Here’s to an even sunnier conference – and a bigger beach – in Bournemouth next year!

A life-affirming measurement

Maybe we’re biased, but we feel a real affinity with the colour yellow.

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Spot the Lifebox

So we were predisposed to like Rotary, and that’s before you factor in the amazing work they’ve been helping us with over the last year!

As we wrote in the April issue of Rotary Today (you can read a copy here), Rotarians around the world from Yorkshire to Benin have been rolling up their sleeves to help us make surgery safer in low-resource countries.

In the last year, with their help, we’ve been able to supply many more pulse oximeters and training programmes to healthcare workers in low-resource settings.

Of course we know we’re not the only ones who have been busy.  Last year in Harrogate we learned about the amazing global range of projects that Rotary clubs lead. So this year we followed the wheel to Birmingham, and the 89th Annual Rotary International Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) Conference – to share our news, and catch up with members, projects and old friends!

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Like Dr Carl Heidelmeyer, our regular friendly face of the Rotary Club of Portishead –

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and Jane Palmer from Mercy Ships (a double meeting, with a Lifebox/Mercy Ships reunion also underway that weekend in the Congo!)

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Our booth looked a little lonely at first – but they don’t call it the House of Friendship for nothing…

Sure enough, we were soon joined by new friends Barbara and Lindsay Bashford, whose son Tom Bashford was a medical VSO volunteer in Ethiopia two years ago.

Is surgery in low-resource settings really so unsafe? Tom recalls a nurse asking him for advice on “how to wake up patients who have not recovered from their anaesthetic after one or two days” – patients who, he knew, would never properly ‘wake up’ and recover from the permanent damage they’d sustained during the operation, caused by loss of oxygen.

He worked with the surgical team at a hospital to introduce the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist, the life-saving communications tool that is a vital component of Lifebox programmes.

And later that year Barbara and Lindsay’s club, the Rotary Club of Market Drayton, raised funds to send pulse oximeters to him at the hospital – ensuring that future patients would be more safely monitored.

Before they knew it, passing Rotarians were finding themselves monitored too.

Suspicious at first…

RIBI_suspicious at first…they soon realised, as the oximeter probe clipped onto their finger and – breathless pause – began to beep reassuringly…

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…that this was “a very life-affirming measurement!” (as Lindsay Bashford poetically put it.)

Soon everyone wanted to know their blood oxygen saturation.

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Pulse oximetry isn’t just life-affirming – it’s life-saving.  A pulse oximeter is the most important piece of monitoring equipment in modern anaesthesia, essential for making it safe (risk of death from anaesthesia in the U.K.: 1 in 200,000) rather than desperately unsafe (risk of death from anaesthesia in West Africa: as high as 1 in 133).

But it’s missing from more that 70,000 operating rooms worldwide and so every day, essential operations – emergency Caesarean sections, trauma repair – take place with the surgical team effectively flying blind.

Lifebox distributes this vital equipment to hospitals in need, and in the last three years we’ve sent out more than 7000 across 90 countries.  But for the first time in history, more people are dying from surgically-treatable conditions than from infectious diseases. Global surgery is in crisis.

We love the Rotary attitude to getting things done – practical and effective.  “We asked what they wanted, needed,” explained David Pope, of the Rotary Club of Abindon Vesper’s work in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania – real evidence of Rotary’s motto, ‘Service above Self’.

In the week after the RIBI conference, two academic papers were published – one showing the dangers of anaesthesia in low-resource countries, and one showing the long-term impact of Lifebox distribution and training.  There has never been a more important time to be practical and effective when it comes to global surgery.

Please get involved – it’s life-affirming for everyone!

Lindsay Bashford

 

 

 

 

A medico-maritime life for me

If it looks like a ship and it sails like a ship and makes sounds like a ship…it’s probably a floating hospital.  At least if it’s the one that belongs to the charity Mercy Ships, currently docked in the Port of Conakry in Guinea, West Africa.

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Bon jour! (The port approach is a lot wetter than starboard entrance)

The MV Africa Mercy is the largest charitable hospital ship in the world, providing free surgical services (primarily facial reconstruction, benign tumor excision, cataract removal and child orthopaedics) to the African countries Mercy Ships visits on a rotating basis.

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Pre-Very Useful Bridge

A repurposed Danish passenger ferry, she took to the seas in 2007 after a very useful bridge built between coasts en route, put the 16,500-ton vessel on the job line.

About 400 long-term staff, 200 local day workers and a rotating crew of volunteers – surgeons, anaesthesiologists, nurses, radiographers, technicians, engineers, administrators, cleaners, cooks, carers, families, officers and of course a captain – are paid up members of this unique medico-maritime community.

(Actually staff pay their own way on board – although the volunteer-staffed Starbucks is generously subsidized by the mermaid herself.*)

This week, by gracious invitation, Lifebox is finding our sea legs too!

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We’ve joined the faculty of the Anaesthesia Care Team (ACT), led by Mercy Ships international board member Dr Keith Thomson (who, alongside his team, delivered our pulse oximeters to Togo last summer), for a three-day training course at Donka Hospital – one of two national facilities, both in Conakry, and the largest hospital in Guinea.

We’re ready to join about 60 anaesthesia providers and midwives for two days of lectures, workshops, quizzes and dancing (possibly we’re not 100% ready for the dancing? But you should be!) in essential anaesthesia and midwifery techniques, followed by a day of the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist and pulse oximetry.

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And we’re very excited for the donation of French-language pulse oximeters to outfit the six hospitals represented at the course, donated with the proceeds from Dr Keith’s recent half marathon adventures!

The Africa Mercy usually spends ten months in each country it visits, wending along the West African coast and ducking back to the Canary Islands in between for repairs.  This is her first trip to Guinea but the charity’s third, following two prior visits from the MV Anastasis (nee Victoria).  She arrived in August, with six operating rooms and nearly 80 patient beds to house the patients eligible for surgery.  Many thousands have shown up for screening, and the lists will stay full until the ship pulls out of port this spring.

Guinea is a low-resource country, but isn’t resource-poor: as the world’s top exporter of bauxite, a key component of aluminium, it sends mini-mountain ranges out of the port regularly.

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The islands are lush and the sea is fish-blue.

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But the post-colonial legacy and ongoing conflict has been disastrous for most of the 10 million people who live here now, heightened by refugees and tensions from neighbours including  Sierra Leone and Mali.  Guinea most recently ranked 178 out of 187 on the UN’s Human Development Index, with just 1.6 mean years of school for adults and a life expectancy of 54.5 years.

There are only four medical anaesthetists in the entire country, and no standardized programme for anaesthesia training whatsoever.  The doctors here have studied in France, in Moscow; the technicians have learned on the job. There isn’t a single working pulse oximeter in the main operating block in Donka.

The unmet surgical need is vast.

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An operating room at Donka Hospital

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing stories from the ship, from the dedicated crew, from the fabulous ACT team – and from the patients.  They are still queuing up in the hot sun on the dock for screening, often alone and from far up country, in the hope of a life-changing operation they’ll not find anywhere else, from a ship that – with the best will in the world – was built to sail away to another port in need.

Sail away