Anesthesia Without Electricity or Oxygen Tanks

By Kim Smiley

Almost 32 million surgeries are performed globally each year without a proper supply of oxygen and anesthesia, predominantly in developing nations.  Many more surgeries are canceled or delayed because anesthesia isn’t available.  One of the issues that plague hospitals in low income countries is that traditional anesthesia machines need electricity and oxygen tanks to function, both of which can be in short supply. A new design, called the Universal Anesthesia Machine (UAM), can operate without electricity or oxygen if necessary and is proving to be a practical solution to this difficult problem.

The UAM was invented by a doctor, Dr. Paul Fenton, who worked as an anesthesiologist at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi where he saw the problems with providing adequate anesthesia first-hand.  He designed his machine to use electricity when it is available, but to continue to function if power is lost by using a hand-powered pump on top. A digital display of oxygen levels switches to a 10 hour battery when power is lost so that the patient can continue to be monitored.  It also uses a compressor and air from the room so oxygen tanks aren’t required.

In an effort to make the UAM as practical to use as possible, it doesn’t use specialized parts.  Parts needed to maintain the machine should be available through a typical auto supply shop.  It’s also a flexible design that is compatible with all standard adult and pediatric breathing systems.

Honestly, this invention sounds too good to be true, but the UAM seems to be functioning as promised.   The number of UAMs in use is still relatively small (100 have been distributed to 18 countries), but they have already provided oxygen for over 30,000 surgeries.  Inadequate anesthesia is a huge issue, but this new machine may very well prove to be an important step in working towards a solution.

Click on “Download PDF” above to see a Cause Map of the problem of inadequate anesthesia.  You can also learn more about how the Universal Anesthesia Machine works by clicking here.