Anesthesia for Cesarean Delivery: A Cross-Sectional Survey of Provincial, District, and Mission Hospitals in Zimbabwe

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Cesarean delivery is the most common surgical procedure in low- and middle-income countries, so provision of anesthesia services can be measured in relation to it. This study aimed to assess the type of anesthesia used for cesarean delivery, the level of training of anesthesia providers, and to document the availability of essential anesthetic drugs and equipment in provincial, district, and mission hospitals in Zimbabwe.


In this cross-sectional survey of 8 provincial, 21 district, and 13 mission hospitals, anesthetic providers were interviewed on site using a structured questionnaire adapted from standard instruments developed by the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists and the World Health Organization.


The anesthetic workforce for the hospitals in this survey constituted 22% who were medical officers and 77% nurse anesthetists (NAs); 55% of NAs were recognized independent anesthetic providers, while 26% were qualified as assistants to anesthetic providers and 19% had no formal training in anesthesia. The only specialist physician anesthetist was part time in a provincial hospital. Spinal anesthesia was the most commonly used method for cesarean delivery (81%) in the 3 months before interview, with 19% general anesthesia of which 4% was ketamine without airway intubation. The mean institutional cesarean delivery rate was 13.6% of live births, although 5 district hospitals were <5%. The estimated institutional maternal mortality ratio was 573 (provincial), 251 (district), and 211 (mission hospitals) per 100,000 live births. Basic monitoring equipment (oximeters, electrocardiograms, sphygmomanometers) was reported available in theatres. Several unsafe practices continue: general anesthesia without a secure airway, shortage of essential drugs for spinal anesthesia, inconsistent use of recovery area or use of table tilt or wedge, and insufficient blood supplies. Postoperative analgesia management was reported inadequate.


This study identified areas where anesthetic provision and care could be improved. Provincial hospitals, where district/mission hospitals refer difficult cases, did not have the higher level anesthesia expertise required to manage these cases. More intensive mentorship and supervision from senior clinicians is essential to address the shortcomings identified in this survey, such as the implementation of evidence-based safe practices, supply chain failures, high maternal morbidity, and mortality. Training of medical officers and NAs should be strengthened in leadership, team work, and management of complications.

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