Going under the knife: surgery access should be available to all

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Two billion of the world’s poorest are at risk because of the perceived high cost of surgical treatment. But there are solutions

A quiet change is sweeping over global health. Surgery, previously an exclusive service for rich urban dwellers, is now being acknowledged as a human right. It is an exciting time for global surgeons. The neglected stepchild of global public health is slowly but surely being accepted into the primary healthcare family.

In 2009, I worked as a medical officer in a primary health centre in ruralIndia. On a bright Saturday afternoon, a lady was brought in with severe abdominal pain and fever. With the limited resources I had, I made a probable diagnosis of acute appendicitis and referred her urgently to a bigger hospital, located five hours away. Unfortunately, the rains had washed away the roads and she could not be transported. The lady died from a completely treatable condition. I will never forget how frustrated I felt that day, especially knowing that this was a common story in rural areas globally.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that approximately 2 billion people do not have access to surgery. According to a report published in 2008, only 3.5% of all surgeries performed worldwide were on the poorest 35%. The burden of disease caused by treatable surgical conditions amounts to 401 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs, a measurement of the burden of the disease), more than that caused by malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids together (214 million DALYs). Since DALYs represent the number of healthy years lost due to disability or death, these figures translate into huge economic losses.

Source: The Guardian (link opens in a new window)

Health Care
public health