The key role of global surgery in universal health care


Image Credit: Boston Children's Hospital


Over the years, the global health community has primarily focused on specific sectors in healthcare, such as non-communicable disease, HIV, and vaccinations. In general, this has significantly reduced the number of deaths and disabilities and increased the quality of life of individuals. However, when it comes to surgery, there is still a lot to do. Over 5 billion people globally are unable to gain access to safe, essential surgical treatments that are of high quality. That’s more than half the world’s population! So does surgery play a key role in universal health care?


The majority of the people who need access to essential surgery live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where they face various accessibility, availability, and financial barriers when trying to access adequate healthcare. In the absence of surgery, there is a greater risk of death or their prognosis worsening in general, which is very common for treatable conditions such as hernias, fractures, and obstructed labours. Those who receive these lifesaving surgical procedures mainly live within the highly populated cities within these countries and can also afford the companying high hospital bills. In the long term, neglecting surgery will not just affect individual quality of life but also the country’s expenditure on its health services including disability facilities and further treatment plans.s.

The majority of the people who need access to essential surgery live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where they face various accessibility, availability and financial barriers when trying to access adequate healthcare. In the absence of surgery, there is a greater risk of death or their prognosis worsening in general, which is very common for treatable conditions such as hernias, fractures and obstructed labours. Those who receive these lifesaving surgical procedures mainly live within the highly populated cities within these countries and can also afford the companying high hospital bills. In the long term, neglecting surgery will not just affect individual quality of life but also the country’s expenditure on its health services including disability facilities and further treatment plans.

With regard to the financial burden of surgery, it has been predicted that 3.7 billion people are at risk of facing financial hardship if they undergo essential surgery. In total, this would cost approximately $350 billion to cover the financial bills for all these people worldwide. It is no doubt that this is a significant amount of money, however, neglecting all these surgical procedures can potentially cost the world $12 trillion, which governments will mainly spend on disabilities and treatments.

So what are we doing at Polygeia?

Post-operative deaths account for 7.7% of all deaths globally, where around 4.2 million people die within a 30-day period of surgery each year. The most common complication of death is caused by surgical site infections (SSIs), which affects around 1/3 of surgical patients. However, when it comes to reporting and managing SSIs, there is a greater need for the global surgery community to do more. Thus, at Polygeia, we will be focusing our research on SSIs. We hope to identify and develop any potential guidance that could influence further progression in providing safe essential surgery globally.


Further Reading:

Summary on Global Surgery 2030: Evidence and Solutions for Achieving Health, Welfare and Economic Development


About the Authors

Pedra Rabiee is a final year medical student at King’s College London.

Twitter: @pedrarabiee

Anita Bolina is a final year medical student at Imperial College London.

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