The safety of anesthesia characteristic of high-income countries today is not matched in low-resource settings with poor infrastructure, shortages of anesthesia providers, essential drugs, equipment, and supplies. Health care is delivered through complex systems. Achieving sustainable widespread improvement globally will require an understanding of how to influence such systems. Health outcomes depend not only on a country's income, but also on how resources are allocated, and both vary substantially, between and within countries. Safety is particularly important in anesthesia because anesthesia is intrinsically hazardous and not intrinsically therapeutic. Nevertheless, other elements of the quality of health care, notably access, must also be considered. Surgical and anesthesia services must not only be provided, they must be safe. The global anesthesia workforce crisis is a major barrier to achieving this. Many anesthetics today are administered by nonphysicians with limited training and little access to supervision or support, often working in very challenging circumstances.
Many organisations, notably the World Health Organization and the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists, are working to improve access to and safety of anesthesia and surgery around the world. Challenges include collaboration with local stakeholders, coordination of effort between agencies, and the need to influence national health policy makers to achieve sustainable improvement. It is conceivable that safe anesthesia and perioperative care could be provided for essential surgical services today by clinicians with moderate levels of training using relatively simple (but appropriately designed and maintained) equipment and a limited number of inexpensive generic medications. However, there is a minimum standard for these resources, below which reasonable safety cannot be assured.
This minimum (at least) should be available to all. Not only more resources, but also more equitable distribution of existing resources is required. Thus, the starting point for global access to safe anesthesia is acceptance that access to health care in general should be a basic human right everywhere.