Background: Surgery is an essential part of health care, but resources to ensure the availability of surgical services are often inadequate. We estimated the global distribution of operating theatres and quantified the availability of pulse oximetry, which is an essential monitoring device during surgery and a potential measure of operating theatre resources.
Methods: We calculated ratios of the number of operating theatres to hospital beds in seven geographical regions worldwide on the basis of profiles from 769 hospitals in 92 countries that participated in WHO's safe surgery saves lives initiative. We used hospital bed figures from 190 WHO member states to estimate the number of operating theatres per 100,000 people in 21 subregions throughout the world. To estimate availability of pulse oximetry, we sent surveys to anaesthesia providers in 72 countries selected to ensure a geographically and demographically diverse sample. A predictive regression model was used to estimate the pulse oximetry need for countries that did not provide data.
Findings: The estimated number of operating theatres ranged from 1·0 (95% CI 0·9-1·2) per 100,000 people in west sub-Saharan Africa to 25·1 (20·9-30·1) per 100,000 in eastern Europe. High-income subregions all averaged more than 14 per 100,000 people, whereas all low-income subregions, representing 2·2 billion people, had fewer than two theatres per 100,000. Pulse oximetry data from 54 countries suggested that around 77,700 (63,195-95,533) theatres worldwide (19·2% [15·2-23·9]) were not equipped with pulse oximeters.
Interpretation: Improvements in public-health strategies and monitoring are needed to reduce disparities for more than 2 billion people without adequate access to surgical care.
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