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BACKGROUND: The importance of safe anesthesia for the best possible surgical outcomes in every patient is not disputed in high resource settings. Low-income countries lag far behind in the provision of, and training for, safe anesthesia practice. Too little is known about numbers and types of providers in a majority of low-income countries. METHODS: A review of the member societies of the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists was undertaken, and membership statistics of national societies were requested. Of the 126 members of the federation, only 14 represent low-income countries. Many non-federation-member countries are also low-income countries. RESULTS: The anesthesia infrastructure and personnel challenges in low-income countries contribute to poor patient outcomes and limited access to emergency and essential surgery. The presence of a functional anesthesia society provides a measure of the numbers of providers and a snapshot of local professional activities. CONCLUSION: The establishment and maintenance of an anesthesia society is an indicator of respect for the profession and commitment to standards of practice, quality initiatives, and continuing medical education within the country.