Safe surgery and anesthesia for children in low-income countries

Postop ChildPerforming anesthesia and operating on babies and children can be very different from caring for adults. Kids are unlike adults in their anatomy, the diseases that affect them, and how their bodies respond to illness and healing. It takes expert training and specific equipment to properly perform anesthesia or surgery on a child.

Even the most complex operations can appear routine in the developed world because of specialized doctors and high-tech hospitals well-equipped to deal with any potential complications. In low-income countries, however, even the most routine procedures on kids can have disastrous consequences if the health care provider is not comfortable treating children, or if hospitals and clinics don’t have the appropriate monitoring equipment.

Here are a few examples:

Anesthesiologists who put children to sleep know that the airway of a child is built differently from that of an adult, and special precautions must be taken to “intubate” or insert breathing tubes prior to surgery. Babies use more oxygen relative to their size than adults, and their oxygen levels can drop quickly with dangerous effects. This is why every hospital where surgery on children occurs should have a pulse oximeter (see What is a Pulse Oximeter?) as the most basic monitoring tool.

Along the same lines, children’s tissues need to be handled more delicately during surgery, they are more prone to heat loss in the operating room, and to fluid imbalances after surgery such as dehydration. Children with surgical diseases can deteriorate very quickly, so the two most essential things that can save a child’s life are:

  • Equipment to routinely monitor their vital signs (heart rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, temperature)
  • Health care providers comfortable treating children and who can recognize their unique signs of distress and treat them quickly and appropriately.

In some poor countries, there is only one or sometimes no surgeon or anesthesiologist trained to treat babies and children. Imagine if your entire country did not have the resources to care for sick children who need surgery. Join Global Surgical Consortium in making this unthinkable situation a problem of the past…