GE Foundation Stays the Course On its Mission for Safe Surgery in Africa

Having surgery, whether minor or major, can be scary. Imagine having that surgery in an area of the world that suffers regular power outages, compressed gas shortages, and a lack of trained healthcare professionals. Now that’s downright terrifying. The World Health Organization has declared that surgery, no matter where it takes place and regardless of the resources available (or lack thereof), should be safe. And there are a handful of funders hoping to make that happen, including the GE Foundation.

Coming just ahead of the recent Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, the GE Foundation announced a $1.7 million grant to establish the Biomedical Equipment Training and Safe Surgery programs in Ethiopia. For GE, the program is the first of its kind in Ethiopia but it builds on the success of similar programs in Ghana, Nigeria, and Rwanda. GE's latest grant will help support the development and training of biomedical technicians in Ethiopia, focusing on repairing existing equipment.

Related: GE Foundation Continues to Power Up Healthcare Efforts in Africa

For the safe surgery portion of the $1.7 million grant, the GE Foundation has partnered with Lifebox, an international NGO specializing in the implementation of the WHOs Safe Surgical Checklist. Both organizations are also collaborating with the country’s Ministry of Health toward developing country-wide operating standards. Dr. David Barash, Executive Director of the Global Health Portfolio and Chief Medical Officer at the GE Foundation, highlights the acute need for safer surgeries in developing countries, calling it a long “neglected area of global health.” Barash went on to further state that if programs like this are successfully implemented, it could mean the prevention of "1.5 million deaths worldwide."

On the corporate side of things, GE announced its plans to launch the GE Healthcare Skills and Training Institute in Kenya. The company will make an investment of at least $13 million over the next 10 years in the institute, which will address Africa’s most pressing health challenges in addition to offering biomedical and clinical training courses. Over time, the institute plans to implement leadership, technical, and clinical education programs. The new Kenyan facility is part of GE Healthcare’s monster commitment to invest over $1 billion in the global healthcare sector.

Both GE, the company and the GE Foundation have been working health and healthcare related programs in Africa for a while now. Last year, the foundation awarded $3 million to Vanderbilt University for its International Anesthesia program which offers anesthesia training and education programs to local medical professionals in clinical and classroom settings.

Related: Surgery in Africa is a Crapshoot: A Big Grant by the GE Foundation Aims to Change That

The foundation also made a $20 million commitment toward reducing the global mortality rates of children under five and decreasing maternal mortality rates as part of its contributions to reaching Millennium Development Goals four and five. This work focuses its efforts on training biomedical equipment technicians, providing anesthesia training for nurses, working on safe water solutions in health care facilities, and figuring out ways to deliver oxygen in facilities that are low on resources.

Resources like electricity, water, and equipment aren’t the only areas in which Africa faces critical shortages; human capital is growing concern here as well. The global health sector is facing a serious shortage in healthcare workers, and Africa ranks the lowest in this regard. The GE Foundation, along with like-minded funders like the Nick Simons Foundation and GlaxoSmithKline are among those funders that are keenly aware of—and pouring millions of funding dollars into—solving the healthcare workforce shortage problem in Africa. The Ebola epidemic, which revealed the profound weaknesses of African healthcare systems, has brought other funders into this mix lately. 

Related: How This Foundation is Looking to Make Surgery Safer in Developing Countries