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Human Rights Day 2019 – Is anaesthesia a human right?


Human Rights Day on 10 December commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. This document proclaimed the inalienable rights to which everyone is entitled to as a human being, including access to adequate medical care, regardless of their location or socio economic status.

Since our inception, WFSA has been at the forefront of efforts to build the capacity of anaesthesia providers worldwide because we believe access to safe and affordable anaesthesia should not be a privilege. Access to safe anaesthesia is a human right.

As an organisation that has official relations with the World Health Organisation the WFSA actively supported WHO Resolution 68:15 “Strengthening emergency and essential surgical care and anaesthesia as a component of universal health coverage”. In 2018 WFSA in collaboration with the WHO, published the WHO-WFSA International Standards for a Safe Practice of Anaesthesia all around by developing the WFSA-WHO International Standards outlining the minimum standards countries should abide by to ensure the provision of safe anaesthesia.

To mark Human Rights Day 2019 we asked our social media followers for their views on whether they thought anaesthesia is a human right. Below are two of the articles we received.

Is anaesthesia a human right? by Dr Martin Lankoandé

All human beings are entitled to their fundamental human rights, without distinction.Human rights are based on respect for human dignity and the worth of each person. They are universal, inalienable, indivisible and interdependent. The violation of a single right often compromises the exercise of several others, so they are all essential.

According to Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Human medicine has four goals, the second of which is the relief of pain. Surgery, which aims to remove, reduce and/or stop the progression of a disease, can cause moderate to severe pain. In the history of medicine, we must remember that surgery used to be performed without anaesthesia and instead used physical restraint, constituting a source of unbearable pain, dehumanizing screams and cries. Patients were subjected to unintentional torture that caused them to lose their dignity.

The right to health implies access to all care, including anaesthesia. Anesthesia makes it possible to eliminate pain, respect the patient’s dignity and facilitate adequate care. It is recognized that access to pain treatment is a human right. Providing anaesthesia reduces pain and suffering, preserves the dignity of patients and protects them from unintentional torture.

According to Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to life, liberty and security. Anesthesia is a state whose inherent risk is more pronounced depending on the patient’s morbidity, the context and the anaesthetist staff in charge. Patients have the right to safe and affordable anaesthetic care. With regard to the place of anesthesia in the provision of health care, pain relief, protection of dignity, respecting;standards to guarantee patient safety, anaesthesia could be considered as a human right.

About the author

Dr Martin Lankoandé is an anaesthesiologist working in Teaching Hospital Yalagdo Ouédraogo, Burkina Faso. His research interess are anaesthesia, intensive care, pain and palliative care. He recieved the WFSA Baxter Scholarship to SARNAF 2017 (Gabon) and 2018 (Ivory Coast). 

Is anaesthesia a human right? by Dr L. Uma Pradeepa 

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. From times immemorial the violation of human rights have been as common as a child’s cry after birth. The United Nations Declaration of Human rights serves as a safeguard against the blatant disregard for human rights globally. The UN lists that everyone is entitled to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, including the provision of safe medical care, however this is not the case all over the world. 

There is a growing concern regarding the level and quality of healthcare access available in lower and middle income countries. A study carried out by the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery found that 5 billion of the world’s 7 billion population do not have access to safe and affordable surgical care and anaesthesia. The effects of this are particularly prevalent in countries with limited resources where anaesthesia is associated with unacceptably high mortality rates. The difference between countries with access to the latest anaesthesia equipment and those who do not is striking. Cost and workforce shortage are amongst the biggest challenges facing global anaesthesia today. While there are many more reasons for the differences in anaesthesia care the question remains, if healthcare is a human right does that mean anaesthesia for surgery is also a human right?

I believe anaesthesia is a human right, because even the most basic of anaesthesia practice carries a greater risk to a patient undergoing surgery if not conducted in a safe and efficient manner. Anaesthesia as part of secondary healthcare services is no longer limited to the operating room but is also indispensable to services provided in the emergency room, intensive care unit, angiography-catheterisation laboratory, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) suite, pain clinics, resuscitative rooms, electroconvulsive therapy room and other life-saving services. Thus anaesthesia-related services constitute one of the important health-related systems which are often found to be severely deficient in lower income countries.

All of us have the right to life, liberty and security but we also have the right to safe surgery which is only possible with the provision of safe anaesthesia. The global approach to achieve the United Nation’s goals of Universal Health Care should focus on the development of educational strategies, the provision of basic anaesthetic agents and equipment alongside involving international experts to educate and develop health services. Through frequent surveys and educational audits, monitoring and evaluation should be conducted to assess the educational material available with international committees providing anaesthesia related educational material at minimal costs.

Despite the amazing work conducted by many anaesthesiology societies around the world like WFSA, there is still a large gap in the anaesthesia services provided globally. Anaesthesia providers around the world should take this opportunity on Human Rights day to declare access to safe anaesthesia and safe surgery is a basic right, because it would be such a wonderful sight if everyone is treated right.

About the author

Dr. L.Uma Pradeepa is an anaesthetist with over 6 years experience and is currently working at Yashoda hospital, Hyderabad in India. Uma has a special interest in regional anaesthesia, interventional pain medicine and Global health. Uma received WFSA MASIMO scholarship to ASA-2018, San Francisco.

Further resources

WHO-WFSA International Standards for a Safe Practice of Anesthesia

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the future of global anaesthesia policy