We Asked the Experts: The Role of Rural Hospitals in Achieving Equitable Surgical Access in Low-Resourced Settings

Strengthening and defining the role of rural hospitals within a surgical ecosystem is essential to improving quality and timely surgical access for rural people in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Regional hospitals are the cornerstone of LMIC rural surgical care but have insufficient human resources and infrastructure that limit the surgical care they can provide. District hospitals are most accessible for many rural patients but also have limited surgical capacity. In order to surgical access for rural people, both regional and district hospital surgical services must be strengthened. A strong relationship between regional and district hospitals through a hub and spoke model is needed. Regional hospital surgeons can support training and supervision for and referrals from district hospitals. Telemedicine can play a key role to leapfrog physical barriers and surgical specialist shortages. The changing demographics of surgical disease will continue to worsen the strain on tertiary hospitals where most subspecialists in LMICs work. The fewer rural patients who need to travel to urban referral and tertiary facilities for problems that can be managed at lower-level facilities, the better access to timely surgical care for all.

Direct Cost of Illness for Spinal Cord Injury: A Systematic Review

Study Design:
Systematic review.

Objective:
Providing a comprehensive review of spinal cord injury cost of illness studies to assist health-service planning.

Methods:
We conducted a systematic review of the literature published from Jan. 1990 to Nov. 2020 via Pubmed, EMBASE, and NHS Economic Evaluation Database. Our primary outcomes were overall direct health care costs of SCI during acute care, inpatient rehabilitation, within the first year post-injury, and in the ensuing years.

Results:
Through a 2-phase screening process by independent reviewers, 30 articles out of 6177 identified citations were included. Cost of care varied widely with the mean cost of acute care ranging from $290 to $612,590; inpatient rehabilitation from $19,360 to $443,040; the first year after injury from $32,240 to $1,156,400; and the ensuing years from $4,490 to $251,450. Variations in reported costs were primarily due to neurological level of injury, study location, methodological heterogeneities, cost definitions, study populations, and timeframes. A cervical level of the injury, ASIA grade A and B, concomitant injuries, and in-hospital complications were associated with the greatest incremental effect in cost burden.

Conclusion:
The economic burden of SCI is generally high and cost figures are broadly higher for developed countries. As studies were only available in few countries, the generalizability of the cost estimates to a regional or global level is only limited to countries with similar economic status and health systems. Further investigations with standardized methodologies are required to fill the knowledge gaps in the healthcare economics of SCI.

Feasibility and diagnostic accuracy of Telephone Administration of an adapted wound heaLing QuestiONnaire for assessment for surgical site infection following abdominal surgery in low and middle-income countries (TALON): protocol for a study within a trial (SWAT)

Background
Surgical site infection is the most common complication of abdominal surgery, with a global impact on patients and health systems. There are no tools to identify wound infection that are validated for use in the global setting. The overall aim of the study described in this protocol is to evaluate the feasibility and validity of a remote, digital pathway for wound assessment after hospital discharge for patients in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Methods
A multi-centre, international, mixed-methods study within a trial, conducted in two stages (TALON-1 and TALON-2). TALON-1 will adapt and translate a universal reporter outcome measurement tool (Bluebelle Wound Healing Questionnaire, WHQ) for use in global surgical research (SWAT store registration: 126) that can be delivered over the telephone. TALON-2 will evaluate a remote wound assessment pathway (including trial retention) and validate the diagnostic accuracy of this adapted WHQ through a prospective cohort study embedded within two global surgery trials. Embedded community engagement and involvement activities will be used to optimise delivery and ensure culturally attuned conduct. TALON-1 and TALON-2 are designed and will be reported in accordance with best practice guidelines for adaptation and validation of outcome measures, and diagnostic test accuracy studies.

Discussion
Methods to identify surgical site infection after surgery for patients after hospital discharge have the potential to improve patient safety, trial retention, and research efficiency. TALON represents a large, pragmatic, international study co-designed and delivered with LMIC researchers and patients to address an important research gap in global surgery trial methodology.

Cancer Screening Programs in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Strategies for Success

Cancer is a leading global health problem and, as of 2020, accounts for 10 million deaths per year.1 The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 30 and 50% of cancer deaths can be prevented by avoiding risk factors, early detection via screening, and proper treatment. The majority of cases occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC).2 Despite awareness of the magnitude of this problem by the global health community and the large-scale efforts to implement screening programs, very few programs are successful and, more importantly, sustainable. Although there are several barriers to implementation of a cancer screening program, the critical barriers are lack of awareness and acceptance of the screening programs by the people residing in the specific geographic regions. In the article by Pak et al. entitled Cancer Awareness and Stigma in Rural Assam India: Baseline Survey of the Detect Early and Save Her/Him (DESH) Program, the authors highlight the cultural and psychosocial barriers to cancer screening.3

The DESH program is a well-organized screening program with multiple components that consists of an initial baseline survey followed by implementation of mobile cancer screening and subsequent follow-up of patients regarding final diagnosis and treatment. The DESH program in Assam, India, focuses on breast, oral, and cervical cancers due to the high incidence of these cancers in this region and the availability of validated screening tests. The baseline survey was validated in a smaller cohort (n = 20) of local participants before widespread implementation to nearly 1000 participants. The survey consisted of multiple sections that focused on areas such as awareness of the carcinogenic effects of certain lifestyle choices, i.e., consumption of betel nuts and smoking, spiritual/religious beliefs, stigma around cancer diagnoses, and knowledge about screening programs and local health care facilities. Through this approach, they found that the majority (92.9%) of participants were not aware of cancer screening availability and had never undergone prior screening. Additionally, over 90% of the survey participants reported consumption of betel nuts, but less than half (46.9%) were aware of the carcinogenic effects of betel nuts. Finally, 42–57% of participants reported negative stigma towards cancer diagnosis. Specifically, more than 30% of participants believed that either cancer is a punishment from God or is caused by bad karma and evil spirits. Furthermore, 20% of participants described fear of cancer screening. These results highlight the complex interplay between knowledge gaps, misconceptions, and cancer stigma that could affect the acceptance, and thereby the success, of a screening program.

Taneja et al. identified similar sociocultural barriers regarding cervical cancer screening in India. Specifically, barriers identified included lack of awareness about screening, poor knowledge about initial symptoms, social stigma, cost, and familial obligations. Hence, it is not surprising that only 5% of eligible women have undergone screening for cervical cancer in India, compared with up to 84% in developed countries.4 This is disconcerting since cervical cancer has the potential for prevention and/or cure due to the length of the premalignant and preinvasive period, emphasizing the importance of a population-based screening program. The benefits of an effective screening program for this disease were demonstrated by Sankaranarayanan et al. in a study of over 130,000 healthy women, in which participants were randomly assigned to undergo cervical cancer screening with either human papillomavirus (HPV) testing, cytologic testing, or visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA). Single-round HPV testing was associated with a significantly reduced number of advanced cases [hazard ratio (HR) 0.47, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.32–0.69] and mortality5 (HR 0.53, 95% CI 0.33–0.83) compared with the control group. The results of this study highlight that implementation of a successful screening program with the right screening test is associated with decreased mortality, even in low-resource settings. However, the main challenge is to screen enough people for the screening program to be effective. The National Cancer Prevention and Control Program launched in 2010 in Morocco, with augmented and expanded infrastructure and considered an exemplar for screening programs in LMIC, had major challenges with uptake of screening and poor participation in early identification of precancerous lesions.

How to improve access to medical imaging in low- and middle-income countries ?

Imaging has become key in the care pathway of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Yet, there are major shortages of imaging equipment and workforce in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The International Society of Radiology outlines a plan to upscale the role of imaging in the global health agenda and proposes a holistic approach for LMICs. A generic model for organising imaging services in LMICs via regional Centres of Reference is presented. The need to better exploit IT and the potential of artificial intelligence for imaging, also in the LMIC setting, is highlighted.

To implement the proposed plan, involvement of professional and international organisations is considered crucial. The establishment of an International Commission on Medical Imaging under the umbrella of international organisations is suggested and collaboration with other diagnostic disciplines is encouraged to raise awareness of the importance to upscale diagnostics at large and to foster its integration into the care pathway globally.

Availability of facility resources and services and infection-related maternal outcomes in the WHO Global Maternal Sepsis Study: a cross-sectional study

Background
Infections are among the leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity. The Global Maternal Sepsis and Neonatal Initiative, launched in 2016 by WHO and partners, sought to reduce the burden of maternal infections and sepsis and was the basis upon which the Global Maternal Sepsis Study (GLOSS) was implemented in 2017. In this Article, we aimed to describe the availability of facility resources and services and to analyse their association with maternal outcomes.
Methods
GLOSS was a facility-based, prospective, 1-week inception cohort study implemented in 713 health-care facilities in 52 countries and included 2850 hospitalised pregnant or recently pregnant women with suspected or confirmed infections. All women admitted for or in hospital with suspected or confirmed infections during pregnancy, childbirth, post partum, or post abortion at any of the participating facilities between Nov 28 and Dec 4 were eligible for inclusion. In this study, we included all GLOSS participating facilities that collected facility-level data (446 of 713 facilities). We used data obtained from individual forms completed for each enrolled woman and their newborn babies by trained researchers who checked the medical records and from facility forms completed by hospital administrators for each participating facility. We described facilities according to country income level, compliance with providing core clinical interventions and services according to women’s needs and reported availability, and severity of infection-related maternal outcomes. We used a logistic multilevel mixed model for assessing the association between facility characteristics and infection-related maternal outcomes.
Findings
We included 446 facilities from 46 countries that enrolled 2560 women. We found a high availability of most services and resources needed for obstetric care and infection prevention. We found increased odds for severe maternal outcomes among women enrolled during the post-partum or post-abortion period from facilities located in low-income countries (adjusted odds ratio 1·84 [95% CI 1·05–3·22]) and among women enrolled during pregnancy or childbirth from non-urban facilities (adjusted odds ratio 2·44 [1·02–5·85]). Despite compliance being high overall, it was low with regards to measuring respiratory rate (85 [24%] of 355 facilities) and measuring pulse oximetry (184 [57%] of 325 facilities).
Interpretation
While health-care facilities caring for pregnant and recently pregnant women with suspected or confirmed infections have access to a wide range of resources and interventions, worse maternal outcomes are seen among recently pregnant women located in low-income countries than among those in higher-income countries; this trend is similar for pregnant women. Compliance with cost-effective clinical practices and timely care of women with particular individual characteristics can potentially improve infection-related maternal outcomes.
Funding
UNDP/UNFPA/UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction, WHO, Merck for Mothers, and US Agency for International Development.

Age at Primary Cleft Lip Repair

Background: The bellwether procedures described by the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery represent the ability to deliver adult surgical services after there is a clear and easily made diagnosis. There is a need for pediatric surgery bellwether indicators. A pediatric bellwether indicator would ideally be a routinely performed procedure, for a relatively common condition that, in itself, is rarely lethal at birth, but that should ideally be treated with surgery by a standard age. Additionally, the condition should be easy to diagnose, to minimize the confounding effects of delays or failures in diagnosis. In this study, we propose the age at primary cleft lip
(CL) repair as a bellwether indicator for pediatric surgery.
Method: We reviewed the surgical records of 71,346 primary cleft surgery patients and ultimately studied age at CL repair in 40,179 patients from 73 countries, treated by Smile Train partners for 2019. Data from Smile Train’s database were correlated with World Bank and WHO indicators.
Results: Countries with a higher average age at CL repair (delayed access to surgery) had higher maternal, infant, and child mortality rates as well as a greater risk of catastrophic health expenditure for surgery. There was also a negative correlation between delayed CL repair and specialist surgical workforce numbers, life expectancy, percentage of deliveries by C-section, total health expenditure per capita, and Lancet Commission on Global Surgery procedure rates.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that age at CL repair has potential to serve as a bellwether indicator for pediatric surgical capacity in Lower- and Middleincome Countr

Augmented, Mixed, and Virtual Reality-Based Head-Mounted Devices for Medical Education: Systematic Review

Background:
Augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and virtual reality (VR), realized as head-mounted devices (HMDs), may open up new ways of teaching medical content for low-resource settings. The advantages are that HMDs enable repeated practice without adverse effects on the patient in various medical disciplines; may introduce new ways to learn complex medical content; and may alleviate financial, ethical, and supervisory constraints on the use of traditional medical learning materials, like cadavers and other skills lab equipment.

Objective:
We examine the effectiveness of AR, MR, and VR HMDs for medical education, whereby we aim to incorporate a global health perspective comprising low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Methods:
We conducted a systematic review according to PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis) and Cochrane guidelines. Seven medical databases (PubMed, Cochrane Library, Web of Science, Science Direct, PsycINFO, Education Resources Information Centre, and Google Scholar) were searched for peer-reviewed publications from January 1, 2014, to May 31, 2019. An extensive search was carried out to examine relevant literature guided by three concepts of extended reality (XR), which comprises the concepts of AR, MR, and VR, and the concepts of medicine and education. It included health professionals who took part in an HMD intervention that was compared to another teaching or learning method and evaluated with regard to its effectiveness. Quality and risk of bias were assessed with the Medical Education Research Study Quality Instrument, the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale-Education, and A Cochrane Risk of Bias Assessment Tool for Non-Randomized Studies of Interventions. We extracted relevant data and aggregated the data according to the main outcomes of this review (knowledge, skills, and XR HMD).

Results:
A total of 27 studies comprising 956 study participants were included. The participants included all types of health care professionals, especially medical students (n=573, 59.9%) and residents (n=289, 30.2%). AR and VR implemented with HMDs were most often used for training in the fields of surgery (n=13, 48%) and anatomy (n=4, 15%). A range of study designs were used, and quantitative methods were clearly dominant (n=21, 78%). Training with AR- and VR-based HMDs was perceived as salient, motivating, and engaging. In the majority of studies (n=17, 63%), HMD-based interventions were found to be effective. A small number of included studies (n=4, 15%) indicated that HMDs were effective for certain aspects of medical skills and knowledge learning and training, while other studies suggested that HMDs were only viable as an additional teaching tool (n=4, 15%). Only 2 (7%) studies found no effectiveness in the use of HMDs.

Conclusions:
The majority of included studies suggested that XR-based HMDs have beneficial effects for medical education, whereby only a minority of studies were from LMICs. Nevertheless, as most studies showed at least noninferior results when compared to conventional teaching and training, the results of this review suggest applicability and potential effectiveness in LMICs. Overall, users demonstrated greater enthusiasm and enjoyment in learning with XR-based HMDs. It has to be noted that many HMD-based interventions were small-scale and conducted as short-term pilots. To generate relevant evidence in the future, it is key to rigorously evaluate XR-based HMDs with AR and VR implementations, particularly in LMICs, to better understand the strengths and shortcomings of HMDs for medical education.

The need for adaptable global guidance in health systems strengthening for musculoskeletal health: a qualitative study of international key informants

Background
Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, MSK pain and MSK injury/trauma are the largest contributors to the global burden of disability, yet global guidance to arrest the rising disability burden is lacking. We aimed to explore contemporary context, challenges and opportunities at a global level and relevant to health systems strengthening for MSK health, as identified by international key informants (KIs) to inform a global MSK health strategic response.

Methods
An in-depth qualitative study was undertaken with international KIs, purposively sampled across high-income and low and middle-income countries (LMICs). KIs identified as representatives of peak global and international organisations (clinical/professional, advocacy, national government and the World Health Organization), thought leaders, and people with lived experience in advocacy roles. Verbatim transcripts of individual semi-structured interviews were analysed inductively using a grounded theory method. Data were organised into categories describing 1) contemporary context; 2) goals; 3) guiding principles; 4) accelerators for action; and 5) strategic priority areas (pillars), to build a data-driven logic model. Here, we report on categories 1–4 of the logic model.

Results
Thirty-one KIs from 20 countries (40% LMICs) affiliated with 25 organisations participated. Six themes described contemporary context (category 1): 1) MSK health is afforded relatively lower priority status compared with other health conditions and is poorly legitimised; 2) improving MSK health is more than just healthcare; 3) global guidance for country-level system strengthening is needed; 4) impact of COVID-19 on MSK health; 5) multiple inequities associated with MSK health; and 6) complexity in health service delivery for MSK health. Five guiding principles (category 3) focussed on adaptability; inclusiveness through co-design; prevention and reducing disability; a lifecourse approach; and equity and value-based care. Goals (category 2) and seven accelerators for action (category 4) were also derived.

Conclusion
KIs strongly supported the creation of an adaptable global strategy to catalyse and steward country-level health systems strengthening responses for MSK health. The data-driven logic model provides a blueprint for global agencies and countries to initiate appropriate whole-of-health system reforms to improve population-level prevention and management of MSK health. Contextual considerations about MSK health and accelerators for action should be considered in reform activities.

Global head and neck surgery research during the COVID pandemic: A bibliometric analysis

Background
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, access to otolaryngology and head-and-neck surgery was limited in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The pandemic has increased the burden on LMIC health systems by causing unanticipated expenses, delayed care, and changes in research activity. We aimed to assess the landscape of global ENT research during the pandemic.

Materials and methods
The authors developed a search strategy composed of the following keywords: “otolaryngology,” “head and neck surgery,” and “low- and middle-income countries.” Then, they searched eleven citation databases via the Web of Science from January 01, 2020, to May 03, 2021. They imported the result as metadata into VosViewer and ran bibliometric analyses to identify the most influential institutions, countries, and themes.

Results
During the study period, 3077 articles were published. Two hundred eighty-nine articles (9%) mentioned COVID-19 explicitly. The second most common theme was pediatric ENT (223 articles, 7%). The United States had the most publications [1616 articles, 12,033 citations, and 2986 total link strength (TLS)], followed by China (336 articles, 10,981 citations, and 571 TLS). South Africa, the first African country, was fourth (302 articles, 699 citations, and 908 TLS), while Brazil, the first South American country, was seventh (158 articles, 582 citations, and 376 TLS). The most prolific institution was the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (186 articles, 1110 citations, and 674 TLS).

Conclusion
COVID-19 was the most common research theme during the pandemic, surpassing pediatric ENT.