Health care seeking in modern urban LMIC settings: evidence from Lusaka, Zambia

In an effort to improve population health, many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have expanded access to public primary care facilities and removed user fees for services in these facilities. However, a growing literature suggests that many patients bypass nearby primary care facilities to seek care at more distant or higher-level facilities. Patients in urban areas, a growing segment of the population in LMICs, generally have more options for where to seek care than patients in rural areas. However, evidence on care-seeking trajectories and bypassing patterns in urban areas remains relatively scarce.

We obtained a complete list of public health facilities and interviewed randomly selected informal sector households across 31 urban areas in Lusaka District, Zambia. All households and facilities listed were geocoded, and care-seeking trajectories mapped across the entire urban area. We analyzed three types of bypassing: i) not using health centers or health posts for primary care; ii) seeking care outside of the residential neighborhood; iii) directly seeking care at teaching hospitals.

A total of 620 households were interviewed, linked to 88 health facilities. Among 571 adults who had recently sought non-emergency care, 65% sought care at a hospital. Among 141 children who recently sought care for diarrhea, cough, fever, or fast breathing, 34% sought care at a hospital. 71% of adults bypassed primary care facilities, 26% bypassed health centers and hospitals close to them for more distant facilities, and 8% directly sought care at a teaching hospital. Bypassing was also observed for 59% of children, who were more likely to seek care outside of the formal care sector, with 21% of children treated at drug shops or pharmacies.

The results presented here strongly highlight the complexity of urban health systems. Most adult patients in Lusaka do not use public primary health facilities for non-emergency care, and heavily rely on pharmacies and drug shops for treatment of children. Major efforts will likely be needed if the government wants to instate health centers as the principal primary care access point in this setting.

Coaching for impact: successful implementation of a multi-national, multi-institutional synchronous research course in Ethiopia

Under the American College of Surgeons’ Operation Giving Back, several US institutions collaborated with a teaching and regional referral hospital in Ethiopia to develop a surgical research curriculum.

A virtual, interactive, introductory research course which utilized a web-based classroom platform and live educational sessions via an online teleconferencing application was implemented. Surgical and public health faculty from the US and Ethiopia taught webinars and led breakout coaching sessions to facilitate participants’ project development. Both a pre-course needs assessment survey and a post-course participation survey were used to examine the impact of the course.

Twenty participants were invited to participate in the course. Despite the majority of participants having connection issues (88%), 11 participants completed the course with an 83% average attendance rate. Ten participants successfully developed structured research proposals based on their local clinical needs.

This novel multi-institutional and multi-national research course design was successfully implemented and could serve as a template for greater development of research capacity building in the low- and middle-income country (LMIC) setting.

User Perceptions and Use of an Enhanced Electronic Health Record in Rwanda With and Without Clinical Alerts: Cross-sectional Survey

Electronic health records (EHRs) have been implemented in many low-resource settings but lack strong evidence for usability, use, user confidence, scalability, and sustainability.

This study aimed to evaluate staff use and perceptions of an EHR widely used for HIV care in >300 health facilities in Rwanda, providing evidence on factors influencing current performance, scalability, and sustainability.

A randomized, cross-sectional, structured interview survey of health center staff was designed to assess functionality, use, and attitudes toward the EHR and clinical alerts. This study used the associated randomized clinical trial study sample (56/112, 50% sites received an enhanced EHR), pulling 27 (50%) sites from each group. Free-text comments were analyzed thematically using inductive coding.

Of the 100 participants, 90 (90% response rate) were interviewed at 54 health centers: 44 (49%) participants were clinical and 46 (51%) were technical. The EHR top uses were to access client data easily or quickly (62/90, 69%), update patient records (56/89, 63%), create new patient records (49/88, 56%), generate various reports (38/85, 45%), and review previous records (43/89, 48%). In addition, >90% (81/90) of respondents agreed that the EHR made it easier to make informed decisions, was worth using, and has improved patient information quality. Regarding availability, (66/88) 75% said they could always or almost always count on the EHR being available, whereas (6/88) 7% said never/almost never. In intervention sites, staff were significantly more likely to update existing records (P=.04), generate summaries before (P<.001) or during visits (P=.01), and agree that “the EHR provides useful alerts, and reminders” (P<.01).

Most users perceived the EHR as well accepted, appropriate, and effective for use in low-resource settings despite infrastructure limitation in 25% (22/88) of the sites. The implementation of EHR enhancements can improve the perceived usefulness and use of key functions. Successful scale-up and use of EHRs in small health facilities could improve clinical documentation, care, reporting, and disease surveillance in low- and middle-income countries.

The role of telepathology in diagnosis of pre-malignant and malignant cervical lesions: Implementation at a tertiary hospital in Northern Tanzania

Adequate and timely access to pathology services is a key to scale up cancer control, however, there is an extremely shortage of pathologists in Tanzania. Telepathology (scanned images microscopy) has the potential to increase access to pathology services and it is increasingly being employed for primary diagnosis and consultation services. However, the experience with the use of telepathology in Tanzania is limited. We aimed to investigate the feasibility of using scanned images for primary diagnosis of pre-malignant and malignant cervical lesions by assessing its equivalency to conventional (glass slide) microscopy in Tanzania.

In this laboratory-based study, assessment of hematoxylin and eosin stained glass slides of 175 cervical biopsies were initially performed conventionally by three pathologists independently. The slides were scanned at x 40 and one to three months later, the scanned images were reviewed by the pathologists in blinded fashion. The agreement between initial and review diagnoses across participating pathologists was described and measured using Cohen’s kappa coefficient (κ).

The overall concordance of diagnoses established on conventional microscopy compared to scanned images across three pathologists was 87.7%; κ = 0.54; CI (0.49–0.57).The overall agreement of diagnoses established by local pathologist on conventional microscopy compared to scanned images was 87.4%; κ = 0.73; CI (0.65–0.79). The concordance of diagnoses established by senior pathologist compared to local pathologist on conventional microscopy and scanned images was 96% and 97.7% respectively. The inter-observer agreement (κ) value were 0.93, CI (0.87–1.00) and 0.94, CI (0.88–1.00) for conventional microscopy and scanned images respectively.

All κ coefficients expressed good intra- and inter-observer agreement, suggesting that telepathology is sufficiently accurate for primary diagnosis in surgical pathology. The discrepancies in interpretation of pre-malignant lesions highlights the importance of p16 immunohistochemistry in definitive diagnosis in these lesions. Sustainability factors including hardware and internet connectivity are essential components to be considered before telepathology may be deemed suitable for widely use in Tanzania.

“My Body, My Rhythm, My Voice”: a community dance pilot intervention engaging breast cancer survivors in physical activity in a middle-income country

Background: Interventions to promote physical activity among women breast cancer survivors (BCS) in low to middle-income countries are limited. We assessed the acceptability and preliminary effectiveness of a theory-driven group dance intervention for BCS delivered in Bogotá, Colombia.

Methods: We conducted a quasi-experimental study employing a mixed-methods approach to assess the 8-week, 3 times/week group dance intervention. The effect of the intervention on participants’ physical activity levels (measured by accelerometry), motivation to engage in physical activity, and quality of life were evaluated using Generalized Estimating Equations analysis. The qualitative method included semi-structured interviews thematically analyzed to evaluate program acceptability.

Results: Sixty-four BCS were allocated to the intervention (N=31) or the control groups (N=33). In the intervention arm, 84% attended ≥60% of sessions. We found increases on average minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day (intervention: +8.99 vs control: -3.7 min; p = 0.01), and in ratings of motivation (intervention change score= 0.45, vs. control change score= -0.05; p = 0.01). BCS reported improvements in perceived behavioral capabilities to be active, captured through the interviews.

Conclusions: The high attendance, behavioral changes, and successful delivery indicate the potential effectiveness, feasibility, and scalability of the intervention for BCS in Colombia.

Trial registration: Clinical trials NCT05252780, registered on Dec 7th, 2021 – Retrospectively registered Unique protocol ID: P20CA217199-9492018.

Impact of a Novel Social Work Program on Access to Tertiary Care

Background: In the movement for global health equity, increased research and funding have not yet addressed a shortage of evidence on effectively implementing context-specific interventions; one unmet need is facilitating access to specialty care within the public health sector in Mexico. Compañeros en Salud has been piloting a novel program, called Right to Healthcare (RTHC), to increase access to specialty care for the rural poor in Chiapas, Mexico. The RTHC program incorporates social work, patient navigation, referrals, direct economic support, and accompaniment for patients.

Objectives: This study evaluates the effectiveness of the RTHC program. Primary outcomes analyzed included acceptance of any referral and attendance of any appointment. Secondary outcomes included acceptance of the first referral and rate of appointment attendance for patients with an accepted referral.

Methods: Using referral process data for the years 2014 to 2019 from a public tertiary care hospital in Chiapas, 91 RTHC patients were matched using 2:1 optimal pair matching with a control cohort balancing covariates of patient age, sex, specialty referred to, level of referring hospital, and municipality.

Findings: RTHC patients were more likely to have had an accepted referral (OR 17.42, 95% CI 3.68 to 414.16) and to have attended an appointment (OR 5.49, 95% CI 2.93 to 11.60) compared to the matched control group. RTHC patients were also more likely to have had their first referral accepted (OR 2.78, 95% CI 1.29 to 6.73). Among patients with an accepted referral, RTHC patients were more likely to have attended an appointment (OR 3.86, 95% CI 1.90 to 8.57).

Conclusions: The results demonstrate that the RTHC model is successful in increasing access to specialty care by both increasing referral acceptance and appointment attendance.

Interventional radiology in low- and middle-income countries

With advancements in imaging techniques, interventional radiology (IR) has found an increased utility in multiple diseases such as ischemic stroke, tissue biopsies, oncology, trauma, etc. The benefit has been twofold in being minimally invasive and improved outcomes. IR in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is still in its nascent phase. The many hurdles include poorly structured post-graduate training, cost of procedures, and lack of awareness among referring physicians. There is a significant need to increase the trained specialists’ awareness among the medical community and rationalize the cost of procedures in LMICs with careful consideration, planning, and international economic and technical assistance.

Evaluating Shifts in Perception After a Pilot Trauma Quality Improvement Training Course in Cameroon

Trauma is a major contributor to the global burden of disease, with low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) being disproportionately affected. Trauma Quality Improvement (QI) initiatives could potentially save an estimated two million lives each year. Successful trauma QI initiatives rely on adequate training and a culture of quality among hospital staff. This study evaluated the effect of a pilot trauma QI training course on participants’ perceptions on leadership, medical errors, and the QI process in Cameroon.

Study participants took part in a three-day, eight-module course training on trauma QI methods and applications. Perceptions on leadership, medical errors, and QI were assessed pre and post-course using a 15-item survey measured on a five-point Likert scale. Median pre- and post-course scores were compared using the Wilcoxon signed-rank test. Knowledge retention and course satisfaction were also evaluated in a post-course survey and evaluation.

A majority of the 25 course participants completed pre-course (92%) and post-course (80%) surveys. Participants’ perceptions of safety and comfort discussing medical errors at work significantly increased post-course (pre-median = 5, IQR [4-5]; post-median = 5, IQR [5-5]; P = 0.046). The belief that individuals responsible for medical error should be held accountable significantly decreased after the course (pre-median = 3, IQR [2-4]; post-median = 1, IQR [1-2]; P < 0.001). Overall satisfaction with the course was high with median scores ≥4. Conclusions These initial results suggest that targeted trauma QI training effectively influences attitudes about QI. Further investigation of the effect of the trauma QI training on hospital staff in larger courses is warranted to assess reproducibility of these findings.

Global Surgery at the National Landscape: Perspectives after the XXXIV Brazilian Congress of Surgery

The XXXIV Brazilian Congress of Surgery included Global Surgery for the first time in its scientific program. Global Surgery is any action in research, clinical practice, and policy-making that aims to improve access and quality of care in surgical specialties. In 2015, The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery highlighted that five billion people lack safe, timely, and affordable surgical care. Even more critical, nine of ten people cannot access essential surgical care in low and middle-income countries, where a third of the worldwide population resides, and only 6% of global surgical procedures are performed. Although Brazilian researchers and institutions have been contributing to lay the movement’s foundations since 2014, Global Surgery remains a barely debated subject in the country. It is urgent to expand the field and break paradigms regarding the surgeons’ role in public health in Brazil. Accomplishing these standards requires a joint effort to strategically allocate resources and identify collaboration opportunities, including those from medical societies and regulatory bodies. As members of the International Student Surgical Network of Brazil – a nonprofit organization by and for students, residents, and young physicians focused on Global Surgery – we review why investing in surgery is cost-effective to strengthen health systems, reduce morbimortality, and lead to economic development. Additionally, we highlight and propose key recommendations to foster the field at the national level.

Causes of futile life-sustaining interventions from the perspective of physicians and nurses in university hospitals in Tehran

Providing futile interventions can lead to moral distress for healthcare providers and impose high costs on healthcare systems. Despite this, evidence demonstrates that such interventions still continue in many parts of the world, particularly in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs). Therefore, this current study was conducted to investigate reasons for providing futile interventions from the perspective of physicians and nurses working at hospitals affiliated to Tehran University of Medical Sciences (TUMS)

In this cross-sectional (descriptive-analytical) study, 249 participants including 128 physicians and 121 nurses working in hospitals affiliated to TUMS were recruited through convenience sampling. Data was collected using a 25-item questionnaire assessing causes of providing futile medical and life-sustaining interventions, grouped into 3 domains of “demands of patients/relatives”, “personal reasons of the healthcare team” and “organisation/infrastructural” limitations. Data was analysed using SPSS 16 and the extent to which participants agreed with each of the causes of futile interventions was expressed as a percentage. Comparisons between the views of physicians and nurses on individual questionnaire items was performed using the Chi-squared test. A linear regression analysis was used to compare the views of physicians and nurses in each of the 3 domains of the questionnaire, and for intra-group comparisons.

For both physicians and nurses, the most common reasons for futile interventions related to patients and their relatives including demands/insistence on the continuation of treatment and false hope for the patient’s recovery. Compared to physicians, nurses gave greater importance to the domains of patient/relatives’ demands as well as personal reasons of the healthcare team. Physicians expressed strongest agreement with the domain of organisation/infrastructural limitations, including lack of guidelines and palliative care centres.

This study demonstrates that despite awareness of the healthcare team members regarding the futility of some interventions, they are still performed due to the reasons highlighted. Therefore, it clinical guidelines should be developed for appropriate end-of-life care, including restricting the use of futile interventions, increase public and professional awareness and knowledge around futile end-of-life interventions and strengthen palliative care services, thereby leading to greater efficiency and justice in the healthcare system.