Global anesthesia workforce crisis: a preliminary survey revealing shortages contributing to undesirable outcomes and unsafe practices

World J Surg. 2010 Mar;34(3):438-44. doi: 10.1007/s00268-009-0229-6.


Background: The burden of disease, disability, and mortality that could be averted by surgery is growing. However, few low and middle income countries (LMICs) have the infrastructure or capacity to provide surgical services to meet this growing need. Equally, few of these countries have been assessed for key infrastructural capacity including surgical and anesthesia providers, equipment, and supplies. These assessments are critical to revealing magnitude of the evolving surgical and anesthesia workforce crisis, related morbidity and mortality, and necessary steps to mitigate the impact of the crisis.

Methods: A pilot Internet-based survey was conducted to estimate per-capita anesthesia providers in LMICs. Information was obtained from e-mail respondents at national health care addresses, and from individuals working in-country on anesthesia-related projects.

Results: Workers from 6 of 98 countries responded to direct e-mail inquiries, and an additional five responses came from individuals who were working or had worked in-country at the time of the survey. The data collected revealed that the per-capita anesthesia provider ratio in the countries surveyed was often 100 times lower than in developed countries.

Conclusions: This pilot study revealed that the number of anesthesia providers available per capita of population is markedly reduced in low and lower middle income countries compared to developed countries. As anesthesia providers are an integral part of the delivery of safe and effective surgical care, it is essential that more data is collected to fully understand the deficiencies in workforce and capacity in low and middle income countries.

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesiology*
  • Developing Countries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects
  • Population Density
  • Workforce