Inequity in paediatric oncology in South Africa – The neuroblastoma case study

Background: The South African Constitution affords everyone the right to access healthcare services, but in children the care must ensure survival.

Aim: This study aimed to determine whether there was access to equitable paediatric oncology services for the management of neuroblastoma in South Africa.

Setting: Paediatric oncology services in South Africa between 2000 to 2014.

Methods: A literature review was carried out, focussing on access to healthcare in South Africa for children with neuroblastoma. Services were classified in accordance with the International Society of Paediatric Oncology resource settings for neuroblastoma diagnosis. Supplementary data from a retrospective study of the management of neuroblastoma in South Africa were evaluated.

Results: The neuroblastoma care services in South Africa were not uniformly resourced and accessible across the provinces. Two provinces (2/9 provinces) had excellent healthcare services that included access to transplant facilities, whilst three (3/9 provinces) had no services. Traveling distances to healthcare services pose major challenges, whilst number of medical staff providing oncology care were unequally distributed. The Constitution did not define basic healthcare for children, nor did the National Cancer Control plan acknowledge childhood cancer as a defined entity without provision until 2022.

Conclusion: Children diagnosed with neuroblastoma do not have equitable access to healthcare as stated in the South African Constitution. The case of neuroblastoma highlights the inequitable access to childhood care as a whole in South Africa. As the health of children is a national priority, it is therefore necessary to sensitise policymakers to the needs of children with cancer.

Barriers to Women Entering Surgical Careers: A Global Study into Medical Student Perceptions

Background: Barriers to female surgeons entering the field are well documented in Australia, the USA and the UK, but how generalizable these problems are to other regions remains unknown.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey was developed by the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA)’s Global Surgery Working Group assessing medical students’ desire to pursue a surgical career at different stages of their medical degree. The questionnaire also included questions on students’ perceptions of their education, resources and professional life. The survey was distributed via IFMSA mailing lists, conferences and social media. Univariate analysis was performed, and statistically significant exposures were added to a multivariate model. This model was then tested in male and female medical students, before a further subset analysis by country World Bank income strata.

Results: 639 medical students from 75 countries completed the survey. Mentorship [OR 3.42 (CI 2.29-5.12) p = 0.00], the acute element of the surgical specialties [OR 2.22 (CI 1.49-3.29) p = 0.00], academic competitiveness [OR 1.61 (CI 1.07-2.42) p = 0.02] and being from a high or upper-middle-income country (HIC and UMIC) [OR 1.56 (CI 1.021-2.369) p = 0.04] all increased likelihood to be considering a surgical career, whereas perceived access to postgraduate training [OR 0.63 (CI 0.417-0.943) p = 0.03], increased year of study [OR 0.68 (CI 0.57-0.81) p = 0.00] and perceived heavy workload [OR 0.47 (CI 0.31-0.73) p = 0.00] all decreased likelihood to consider a surgical career. Perceived quality of surgical teaching and quality of surgical services in country overall did not affect students’ decision to pursue surgery. On subset analysis, perceived poor access to postgraduate training made women 60% less likely to consider a surgical career [OR 0.381 (CI 0.217-0.671) p = 0.00], whilst not showing an effect in the men [OR 1.13 (CI 0.61-2.12) p = 0.70. Concerns about high cost of training halve the likelihood of students from low and low-middle-income countries (LICs and LMICs) considering a surgical career [OR 0.45 (CI 0.25-0.82) p = 0.00] whilst not demonstrating a significant relationship in HIC or UMIC countries. Women from LICs and LMICs were 40% less likely to consider surgical careers than men, when controlling for other factors [OR 0.59 CI (0.342-1.01 p = 0.053].

Conclusion: Perceived poor access to postgraduate training and heavy workload dissuade students worldwide from considering surgical careers. Postgraduate training in particular appears to be most significant for women and cost of training an additional factor in both women and men from LMICs and LICs. Mentorship remains an important and modifiable factor in influencing student’s decision to pursue surgery. Quality of surgical education showed no effect on student decision-making.