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Can J Anaesth. 2015 Dec;62(12):1259-67. doi: 10.1007/s12630-015-0483-z. Epub 2015 Sep 29.

Avoidable perioperative mortality at the University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka, Zambia: a retrospective cohort study.

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Department of Anaesthesia, Guys and St Thomas' Hospital, London, UK.
Department of Anaesthesia, Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, UK.
Department of Anaesthesia, Royal Gwent Hospital, Newport, UK.
Department of Surgery, University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka, Zambia.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka, Zambia.
Department of Anaesthesia, University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka, Zambia.
Postgraduate Medical Institute, Anglia Ruskin University, Essex, UK.
Department of Anesthesiology, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Ottawa, ON, Canada.



Perioperative mortality has fallen in both high- and low-income countries over the last 50 years. An evaluation of avoidable perioperative mortality can provide valuable lessons to improve care; however, there is relatively little recent data from the Least Developed Countries in the world. We aimed to compare recent avoidable perioperative mortality in Lusaka, Zambia, with historical data from 1987.


We conducted a retrospective cohort study by identifying perioperative deaths within days of surgery and comparing the operating room and mortuary registers for the 2012 calendar year. Multiple independent raters from anesthesiology and surgery/obstetrics gynecology reviewed case notes, when available, to identify avoidable causes of death.


Of the 18,010 surgical patients in 2012, 114 were identified as having died perioperatively within six days of surgery. Fifty-nine files were available for further analysis (52% of identified perioperative deaths). Eighteen (30%) of these cases were assessed as avoidable, 19 cases (32%) probably avoidable, 14 cases (24%) unavoidable, and eight cases (14%) unclear. Thirty-one (53%) cases had surgical factors contributing to death, 19 (32%) cases had anesthesia factors, and 18 (30%) cases had systems factors. Most of the avoidable deaths were attributed to multiple factors. Key factors leading to the avoidable deaths were delays in surgery, lack of the availability of blood, and poor postoperative care.


Most deaths were avoidable, suggesting that patient outcomes in low-resource settings can be improved within current resources. The multifactorial nature of avoidability implies that an interprofessional approach is required to improve the quality of care.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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