Global surgery and global health: One size does not fit all

Global surgery is interpreted differently and may lack an in-depth understanding which is complicated by socio-economy and culture. Global surgery and global health have become part of health care service following the report of the Lancet Commission. Sustainability, ethical principles, and decolonization are some important ongoing issues for recipient societies. Incorporating societal dimensions, socio-cultural values, patients’ needs, and affordability requires a tailored approach and not blindly pursuing the best technology. The recent COVID-19 has exposed the unethical and inequity in terms of equitable healthcare, vaccine rollout and its access, and unprecedented high mortality observed in some societies. Surgery has been a neglected stepchild of global health and in addition global surgery must not be a slave of technology for the promotion of the ‘gold standard’, especially corporate-led commercialized services because a sustainable and effective surgical service at a reduced cost is desirable for all, be resource-rich or poor. Global surgery and global health include health security and universal health coverage. Stakeholders of global surgery need to be aware that ‘one size does not fit all’ and are required to consider the diverse conditions.

Hospitalized for poverty: orthopaedic discharge delays due to financial hardship in a tertiary hospital in Northern Tanzania

Musculoskeletal injury contributes significantly to the burden of disease in Tanzania and other LMICs. For hospitals to cope financially with this burden, they often mandate that patients pay their entire hospital bill before leaving the hospital. This creates a phenomenon of patients who remain hospitalized solely due to financial hardship. This study aims to characterize the impact of this policy on patients and hospital systems in resource-limited settings.

A mixed-methods study using retrospective medical record review and semi-structured interviews was conducted at a tertiary hospital in Moshi, Tanzania. Information regarding patient demographics, injury type, days spent in the ward after medical clearance for discharge, and hospital invoices were collected and analyzed for orthopaedic patients treated from November 2016 to June 2017.

346 of the 867 orthopaedic patients (39.9%) treated during this time period were found to have spent additional days in the hospital due to their inability to pay their hospital bill. Of these patients, 72 patient charts were analyzed. These 72 patients spent an average of 9 additional days in the hospital due to financial hardship (range: 1–64 days; interquartile range: 2–10.5 days). They spent an average of 112,958 Tanzanian Shillings (TSH) to pay for services received following medical clearance for discharge, representing 12.3% of the average total bill (916,840 TSH). 646 hospital bed-days were spent on these 72 patients when they no longer clinically required hospitalization. 7 (9.7%) patients eloped from the hospital without paying and 24 (33.3%) received financial assistance from the hospital’s social welfare office.

Many patients do not have the financial capacity to pay hospital fees prior to discharge. This reality has added significantly to these patients’ overall financial hardship and has taken hundreds of bed-days from other critically ill patients. This single-institution, cross-sectional study provides a deeper understanding of this phenomenon and highlights the need for changes in the healthcare payment structure in Tanzania and other comparable settings.

Economic Evaluation of a Global Reconstructive Surgery Visiting Educator Program

The objective of this study was to quantify the cost-effectiveness and economic value of a reconstructive surgery visiting educator trip program in a resource-constrained setting.

Reconstructive surgical capacity remains inadequate in low- and middle-income countries, resulting in chronic disability and a significant economic toll. Education and training of the local surgical workforce to sustainably expand capacity have been increasingly encouraged, but economic analyses of these interventions are lacking.

Data were analyzed from 12 visiting educator trips and independently-performed surgical procedures at 3 Vietnamese hospitals between 2014 and 2019. A cost-effectiveness analysis was performed using standardized methodology and thresholds to determine cost-effectiveness. Sensitivity analyses were performed with disability weights, discounting, and costs from different perspectives. Economic benefit was estimated using both the human capital method and the value of a statistical life method, and a benefit-cost ratio was computed.

In the base case analysis, the visiting educator program was very cost-effective at $581 per disability-adjusted life year (DALY) averted. Economic benefit was between $21·6 million and $29·3 million, corresponding to a 12- to 16-fold return on investment. Furthermore, when considering only costs to the organization, the cost decreased to $61 per DALY averted, with a 113- to 153-fold return on investment for the organization.

Visiting educator programs, which build local reconstructive surgical capacity in limited-resource environments, can be very cost-effective with significant economic benefit and return on investment. These findings may help guide organizations, donors, and policymakers in resource allocation in global surgery.

Decolonizing Global Surgery

By bringing health professionals across a variety of disciplines together, we are able to share strategies and create solutions for improving surgical care to these under-serviced regions. The Bethune Round Table 2022 took place virtually, June 16 – 19 and was hosted by BGSC,in co-operation with the Canadian Network for International Surgery. The theme for the BRT 2022 was “Decolonizing Global Surgery”.

The conference program consisted of 28 panelists and speakers and 98 abstracts (46 podium presentations and 52 posters) touching upon diverse aspects of global surgery including women in surgery, indigenous health, and sustainability in global partnerships. All sessions were recorded, including abstracts. All the abstracts presented are contained within this document.

The state of surgery, obstetrics, trauma, and anaesthesia care in Ghana: a narrative review

Conditions amenable to surgical, obstetric, trauma, and anaesthesia (SOTA) care are a major contributor to death and disability in Ghana. SOTA care is an essential component of a well-functioning health system, and better understanding of the state of SOTA care in Ghana is necessary to design policies to address gaps in SOTA care delivery.

The aim of this study is to assess the current situation of SOTA care in Ghana.

A situation analysis was conducted as a narrative review of published scientific literature. Information was extracted from studies according to five health system domains related to SOTA care: service delivery, workforce, infrastructure, finance, and information management.

Ghanaians face numerous barriers to accessing quality SOTA care, primarily due to health system inadequacies. Over 77% of surgical operations performed in Ghana are essential procedures, most of which are performed at district-level hospitals that do not have consistent access to imaging and operative room fundamentals. Tertiary facilities have consistent access to these modalities but lack consistent access to oxygen and/or oxygen concentrators on-site as well as surgical supplies and anaesthetic medicines. Ghanaian patients cover up to 91% of direct SOTA costs out-of-pocket, while health insurance only covers up to 14% of the costs. The Ghanaian surgical system also faces severe workforce inadequacies especially in district-level facilities. Most specialty surgeons are concentrated in urban areas. Ghana’s health system lacks a solid information management foundation as it does not have centralized SOTA databases, leading to incomplete, poorly coded, and illegible patient information.

This review establishes that surgical services provided in Ghana are focused primarily on district-level facilities that lack adequate infrastructure and face workforce shortages, among other challenges. A comprehensive scale-up of Ghana’s surgical infrastructure, workforce, national insurance plan, and information systems is warranted to improve Ghana’s surgical system.

Academic Output in Global Surgery after the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery: A Scoping Review

The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery (LCoGS) published its seminal report in 2015, carving a niche for global surgery academia. Six years after the LCoGS, a scoping review was conducted to see how the term ‘global surgery’ is characterized by the literature and how it relates to LCoGS and its domains.

PubMed was searched for publications between January 2015 and February 2021 that used the term ‘global surgery’ in the title, abstract, or key words or cited the LCoGS. Variables extracted included LCoGS domains, authorship metrics, geographic scope, and clinical specialty.

The search captured 938 articles that qualified for data extraction. Nearly 80% of first and last authors had high-income country affiliations. Africa was the most frequently investigated region, though many countries within the region were under-represented. The World Journal of Surgery was the most frequent journal, publishing 13.9% of all articles. General surgery, pediatric surgery, and neurosurgery were the most represented specialties. Of the LCoGS domains, healthcare delivery and management were the most studied, while economics and financing were the least studied.

A lack of consensus on the definition of global surgery remains. Additional research is needed in economics and financing, while obstetrics and trauma are under-represented in literature using the term ‘global surgery’. Efforts in academic global surgery must give a voice to those carrying the global surgery agenda forward on the frontlines. Focusing on research capacity-building and encouraging contribution by local partners will lead to a stronger, more cohesive global surgery community.

A Systematic Review of the Cost-Effectiveness of Cleft Care in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: What is Needed?

The objective of this paper is to conduct a systematic review that summarizes the cost-effectiveness of cleft lip and/or palate (CL/P) care in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) based on existing literature.

We searched eleven electronic databases for articles from January 1, 2000 to December 29, 2020. This study is registered in PROSPERO (CRD42020148402). Two reviewers independently conducted primary and secondary screening, and data extraction.

All CL/P cost-effectiveness analyses in LMIC settings.

Patients, Participants
In total, 2883 citations were screened. Eleven articles encompassing 1,001,675 patients from 86 LMICs were included.

Main Outcome Measures
We used cost-effectiveness thresholds of 1% to 51% of a country’s gross domestic product per capita (GDP/capita), a conservative threshold recommended for LMICs. Quality appraisal was conducted using the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) checklist.

Primary CL/P repair was cost-effective at the threshold of 51% of a country’s GDP/capita across all studies. However, only 1 study met at least 70% of the JBI criteria. There is a need for context-specific cost and health outcome data for primary CL/P repair, complications, and existing multidisciplinary management in LMICs.

Existing economic evaluations suggest primary CL/P repair is cost-effective, however context-specific local data will make future cost-effectiveness analyses more relevant to local decision-makers and lead to better-informed resource allocation decisions in LMICs.

Global Neurosurgery in the Context of Global Public Health Practice–A Literature Review of Case Studies

Neurosurgical conditions are a substantial contributor to surgical burden worldwide, with low- and middle-income countries carrying a disproportionately large part. Policy initiatives such as the National Surgical, Obstetrics and Anesthesia Plans and Comprehensive Policy Recommendations for the Management of Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus in Low-and-Middle-Income countries have highlighted the need for an intersectoral approach, not just at the hospital level but on a large scale encompassing national public health strategies. This article aims to show through case studies how addressing this surgical burden is not limited to the clinical context but extends to public health strategies as well.

For example, vitamin B12 and folic acid are micronutrients that, if not at adequate levels, can result in debilitating neurosurgical conditions. In Ethiopia, through coalesced efforts between neurosurgeons and policy makers, the government has made strides in implementing food fortification programs at a national level to address the neurosurgical burden. Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are another neurosurgical burden that unevenly affects LMICs. Countries such as Colombia and India have shown the importance of legislation and enforcement, coupled with robust data collection and auditing systems; strong academic advocacy of neurosurgeons can drastically reduce TBIs.

Despite the importance of public health efforts in addressing neurosurgical conditions, there is a lack of neurosurgeon involvement in public health and lack of integration of neurosurgical burden in national health planning systems. It is imperative that neurosurgeons advocate for and are included in aspects of public health policy. Neurosurgery does not stop within the bounds of the hospital, and neither should the role of a neurosurgeons

Staged Surgical Approach of Neonates with Esophageal Atresia and Tracheoesophageal Fistula from Low and Middle Income Countries


Neonates born in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) with esophageal atresia (EA) and tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF) often do not have access to adequate surgical care. We have partnered with the non-profit organization World Pediatric Project (WPP) to facilitate care for such patients.


This was a retrospective review of the patients (n=9) in this program. Our protocol included placement of a gastrostomy tube by local surgeons before definitive repair at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR). The outcomes included: demographics, length of stay, complications, mortality, and nutritional status.


The median age at the time of admission to CHoR and at the time of surgery were 3.1 weeks [1.1 – 21.1] and 5.9 weeks [3.4 – 22], respectively. All the patients had a successful primary repair of the EA and TEF without postoperative mortality. As a result, every patient is now on regular PO diet by mouth without TPN dependence. Every patient has been seen in follow up in the U.S. and their home country.


We provided successful multidisciplinary care for neonates with EA and TEF from LMICs in partnership with WPP, which has provided essential support to identify and manage these patients.

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.