Growing up within the United States healthcare system, it is hard to imagine that if you are critically ill or your child or loved one is suffering, that no one is available to help you. We live in a society where 30 percent of babies are born via cesarean section, where dying from appendicitis is almost unheard of and where a broken limb is easily fixed. This is not the case for many others around the globe.
There truly exists a global health crisis, which differs from the ones that are most publicized. The international fight for AIDS treatment and prevention, the eradication of starvation, women’s suffering and even Ebola outbreaks all receive a tremendous amount of well-deserved attention from a variety of media and social outlets. Unknown to many is another global health threat: the global anesthesia crisis.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated two billion people on this planet do not have access basic surgical care. Compared to the United States, where there is approximately one anesthesia provider for every 4,000 people, the Democratic Republic of Congo has only 0.02 provides per 100,000 people. In some parts of the developing world, anesthesia-associated death rates are as high as one in every 150 surgeries.
On a recent trip to Ghana, I had the honor to meet with well over a third of the country’s anesthesia work force. One of the nurse anesthetists I met told stories of having to buy medications with money from her own paycheck so that she could safely care for her patients. Without those medications, she knew that she would not be prepared to handle certain emergency situations that could arise. I met another nurse anesthetist who helped patients from war-torn Cote d’Ivoire obtain life-saving medical treatment at his remote village hospital.
While in Ghana, I also had the opportunity to meet many nurses studying to become nurse anesthetists. Most of the students face returning to practice in villages without equipment and supplies, or any colleagues to provide consultation or work relief. One student in particular told me that he felt it was his duty to serve the other citizens of his village by providing full-time anesthesia services to the local hospital; something that had never been available to them before. And these stories are all too common in the developing world.
As we all take time this week to celebrate the hard work and dedication certified registered nurse anesthetists commit to providing safe, quality anesthesia care, I urge us all to remember the thousands of nurses and nurse anesthetists around the world who deliver such a vital service to those in such great need.
Wishing a Happy Nurse Anesthetists Week to all of my colleagues, from here and far!
Brett Morgan, DNP, CRNA
Assistant professor, Nurse Anesthesia Program