Going under the knife: surgery access should be available to all
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
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.
- Health Care