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

The Nick Simons Foundation was quietly established in 2005 in honor of Nick Simons, who sadly drowned in 2003. One year later, in 2006, Nick’s parents, Jim and Marilyn Simons, established the Nick Simons Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal to honor their son’s love of the country.

Yes, this is the same Simons couple that also bankrolls the giant science funder, the Simons Foundation, and whose large hedge fund fortune also underpins the Sea Change Foundation, created by their son Nathaniel Simons, and the Heising-Simons Foundation, which daughter Liz Simons runs with her husband. 

The Nick Simons Foundation primarily supports two organizations: the Nick Simons Institute (NSI) and Gradian Health Systems. NSI provides rural health care to people living in rural Nepal through its three main program areas—training, rural staff support, and advocacy. NSI receives the majority of its support from the Nick Simons Foundation, which awards the institute around $2 million annually. The foundation’s support of Gradian Health Systems, which was actually founded by the Nick Simons Foundation, is a different story.

Gradian Health Systems specializes in delivering anesthesia safely, and relatively cheaply to hospitals around the world through its Universal Anesthesia Machine (UAM). According to the the Nick Simons Foundation’s tax filings, it began its major financing in Gradian’s UAM in 2009 with a $245,000 investment to provide development and technological support. In 2011, the foundation invested over $850,000 in the machine and in 2012, it put in over $1.1 million to further the development of the UAM.

The Nick Simons Foundation and Gradian Health Systems are tackling a huge, and often overlooked health care problem in the the developing world. Many hospitals located in developing countries lack the basic amenities and resources that many of us take for granted.

For example, in Sierra Leone, 60 percent of the hospitals had interrupted oxygen supplies, 40 percent had no oxygen, and only 20 percent had functioning anesthesia equipment. Without the proper equipment to keep patients under anesthesia during surgery, doctors often have to prescribe drugs like ketamine, which only dulls the patient’s pain.

Hospitals in developing countries also suffer through an average of around 18 power outages a month, and experience regular shortages of compressed gas. Traditional anesthesia machines can’t operate safely without either. The UAM solves both problems with one inexpensive machine.

The UAM does operate as a traditional anesthesia machine, as it pipes oxygen from pressurized tanks. But it also has a backup method when power outages occur. When the power goes, anesthesiologists can use the UAM hand pump, which draws oxygen through the open air and passes it through a concentrator. This concentrated oxygen is then pushed into a drug cannister, where it mixes with other drugs and is administered to the patient through a mouth-and-nose piece.

Gradian sells its UAM for a little over $16,000, which is what it costs to manufacture and produce. The company also provides free training and maintenance. Even at that cost, most hospitals in developing countries can’t afford the machine. So the Nick Simons Foundation often picks up the tab to cover some of those costs and local NGOs and governments are encouraged to pitch in whatever they can afford.

We've written before about funder-backed efforts to make surgery safer in developing countries. Last year, the GE Foundation make a big investment in this area. 

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