Avoidable Anaesthetic Deaths in Low Income Settings: A Narrative Review


  • Job G Otokwala Department of Anaesthesiology, University of Port Harcourt
  • Owajimam Juliet Amadi Department of Internal Medicine, Rivers State University Teaching Hospital




Avoidable, Anaesthetic, Deaths, Low income settings


Background:  One of the most devastating events in the perioperative period is the loss of an apparently healthy patient from a purely avoidable cause. Anaesthesia is a known risk factor for critical incidents that could result in mortality. The complex mix of both human and other associated factors which have seen improvements in developed climes but remain a cause for concern in resource-limited environments is the basis for this review.  The authors feel concerned about the sustained loss of precious lives to avoidable causes.

Objective: This paper reviews the available literature for the history, causative factors and summarizes the evidence to prevent such an anaesthetic disaster.

Methods:  A systematic literature search was conducted on the incidences of avoidable anaesthetic deaths in the developing countries. The review used the electronic database; Cochrane library, Medline, PubMed, EMBASE and African journal online (AJOL), screening of the titles and abstracts of papers to define relevant studies for inclusion. Searches were limited mainly to studies relating to the developing countries.  The search period was up to 2021.

Results: We reviewed studies which were carried out in developing countries and in some developed countries and discovered that most intraoperative deaths from anaesthesia were avoidable and affected patients in the younger age group. Conversely however, one study showed only one anaesthesia-related death (0.05%) in a middle-aged man. Furthermore, avoidable anaesthetic mortality rates were found to be 1:504 in Malawi and 1:133 in Togo.

Conclusion: Anaesthetic deaths in the peri-operative period are largely preventable and have far-reaching consequences on the patient’s relatives, anaesthetists, surgeons, and other hospital personnel involved in the management of the patient. Although the incidence is on a downward trend in developed countries, it is still a major problem in developing countries and human factors account for majority of the cases. The correct use of checklists, paying attention to even the smallest detail, training and re-training of personnel and provision of appropriate equipment in developing countries will go a long way to curb this menace.

Author Biographies

Job G Otokwala, Department of Anaesthesiology, University of Port Harcourt

Senior Lecturer; Department of Anaesthesiology, University of Port Harcourt

Owajimam Juliet Amadi, Department of Internal Medicine, Rivers State University Teaching Hospital

Department of Internal Medicine, Rivers State University Teaching Hospital


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How to Cite

Otokwala, J. G., & Amadi, O. J. (2022). Avoidable Anaesthetic Deaths in Low Income Settings: A Narrative Review. The Nigerian Health Journal, 22(1), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.60787/tnhj.v22i1.526

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