WHO Offers Checklist to Make Surgery Safer Worldwide

The World Health Organization (www.who.int) released a new safety checklist for surgical teams on Wednesday, saying the checklist is part of a drive to make surgery safer around the world. Studies indicate about 234 million major surgeries take place annually, with a significant percentage resulting in complications and deaths that can be prevented, WHO said.

"Preventable surgical injuries and deaths are a growing concern," said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO's director-general. "Using the checklist is the best way to reduce surgical errors and improve patient safety."

Studies have shown that in industrial countries, major complications occur in 3-16 percent of inpatient surgical procedures and permanent disability or death rates are about 0.4-0.8 percent. In developing countries, studies suggest death rates of 5-10 percent during major operations. "Mortality from general anaesthesia alone is reported to be as high as one in 150 in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Infections and other postoperative complications are also a serious concern around the world. These studies suggest that about half of these complications may be preventable," according to the agency.

"Surgical care has been an essential component of health systems worldwide for more than a century," said Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Although there have been major improvements over the last few decades, the quality and safety of surgical care has been dismayingly variable in every part of the world. The Safe Surgery Saves Lives initiative aims to change this by raising the standards that patients anywhere can expect."

Headed by the school, the initiative involves more than 200 national and international medical societies and ministries of health. are working together to reduce avoidable deaths and complications in surgical care. Preliminary results from 1,000 patients in eight pilot sites worldwide show the checklist has nearly doubled the likelihood patients will receive proven standards of surgical care. Final results on the impact of the checklist are expected witin a few months.

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