Association between government policy and delays in emergent and elective surgical care during the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil: a modeling study

Background
The impact of public health policy to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on access to surgical care is poorly defined. We aim to quantify the surgical backlog during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Brazilian public health system and determine the relationship between state-level policy response and the degree of state-level delays in public surgical care.

Methods
Monthly estimates of surgical procedures performed per state from January 2016 to December 2020 were obtained from Brazil’s Unified Health System Informatics Department. Forecasting models using historical surgical volume data before March 2020 (first reported COVID-19 case) were constructed to predict expected monthly operations from March through December 2020. Total, emergency, and elective surgical monthly backlogs were calculated by comparing reported volume to forecasted volume. Linear mixed effects models were used to model the relationship between public surgical delivery and two measures of health policy response: the COVID-19 Stringency Index (SI) and the Containment & Health Index (CHI) by state.

Findings
Between March and December 2020, the total surgical backlog included 1,119,433 (95% Confidence Interval 762,663–1,523,995) total operations, 161,321 (95%CI 37,468–395,478) emergent operations, and 928,758 (95%CI 675,202–1,208,769) elective operations. Increased SI and CHI scores were associated with reductions in emergent surgical delays but increases in elective surgical backlogs. The maximum government stringency (score = 100) reduced emergency delays to nearly zero but tripled the elective surgical backlog.

Interpretation
Strong health policy efforts to contain COVID-19 ensure minimal reductions in delivery of emergent surgery, but dramatically increase elective backlogs. Additional coordinated government efforts will be necessary to specifically address the increased elective backlogs that accompany stringent responses.

Barriers and enablers to country adoption of National Surgical, Obstetric, and Anesthesia Plans

This paper examines the adoption and diffusion of National Surgical Obstetric and Anaesthesia Plans (NSOAPs), a policy instrument, to improve surgical healthcare services in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). It draws on recent trends in health system reform and empiricism to understand NSOAP effectiveness for large-scale improvement in surgical system objectives (surgical outcomes, patient satisfaction and financial risk protection). While the study reveals that NSOAP adoption has occurred in several countries, its translation into effective, responsive and equitable coverage of surgical healthcare services (diffusion) with enduring impact has yet to occur on a large-scale. NSOAP adoption and diffusion has been constrained by two principal considerations: (I) suboptimal funding allocation to develop NSOAPs and implement within a health system context; (II) inadequate translation of the NSOAP into implementable activities that lead to improved health system performance. We argue that a systems perspective—dynamically optimizing the NSOAP in relation to specific health system, adoption system, and contextual factors—may enhance the scale-up of NSOAPs and lead to sustainably funded programs that enhance the effectiveness, efficiency, responsiveness and equity of surgical healthcare service over the long-term. We explore three specific areas—technology, financing, governance—which could be harnessed to enhance the adoption and diffusion of NSOAPs.

The Role of Young Neurosurgeons in Global Surgery: A Unified Voice for Health Care Equity

Health care equity pursues the elimination of health disparities or inequalities. One of the most significant challenges is the inequality shaped by policies, for which systemic change is needed. Historically, non-surgical pathologies have received greater political priority than surgical pathologies, but we have begun to see a paradigm shift over the past decade. In 2010, Shrime et al. showed that 32.9% of all global deaths were attributed to surgically related conditions, which equated to three times more deaths than that due to non-surgical pathologies such as tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS combined (1). When the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery was published in 2015 (2), a new era in global health emerged. The message was clear: surgical diseases could no longer be neglected. The report emphasized the importance of systems-level improvements in service delivery, workforce training, financing, information management, infrastructure, health policy, and governance.

In neurosurgery, over five million patients present with treatable conditions each year but do not have access to surgical intervention (3). Most of these patients live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), particularly in Africa and South-East Asia. For a hospital to offer neurosurgical services, substantial investment in infrastructure and human resources is required. Hence, most neurosurgical services tend to be concentrated in tertiary hospitals or academic centers located in cities or urban regions. Moreover, the comprehensive management of a patient’s neurosurgical disease relies heavily on a functioning health care system, often requiring a multidisciplinary team approach, whether in children or adults.

Shared learning in and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has cost the lives of over 1.5 million people to date and resulted in severe surgical backlogs up to tens of millions of surgeries worldwide [1]. Steinmaurer and Bley [2] appropriately question whether the transformability of cardiac surgery in high-income country epicentres of the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to changes elsewhere in the world. Six billion people lack access to safe, timely and affordable cardiac surgical care when needed, and this pandemic has only aggravated disparities in access to care [3, 4]. As countries have adapted and vaccines are on the horizon, it is paramount to think above and beyond what we have learned in our specialty during these challenging times and recognize the sustained disparities across the globe.

These disparities can be further explored by assessing service provision and workforce capacity in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This is especially prominent in low-income countries, where 0.04 cardiac surgeons are available per million population compared to 7.15 in high-income countries [4]. The loss of even 1 surgeon can lead to disastrous consequences in service provision. Now, travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic have substantially increased these discrepancies. LMIC centres acting as regional hubs, often offering free or subsidized surgery, have experienced significant volume reductions while adapting to COVID-19 responses [4]. The pandemic also affected visiting teams, who have been unable to reach regions where local capacity is scant. These issues signpost the need for urgent solutions.

The pandemic has emphasized the importance of a global health view for cardiac surgery. Mutual learning can act as a vector for exponential change and improvement in meeting these disparities. George et al. [5] have described multiple strategies used in the New-York Presbyterian Hospital within their cardiac surgical service such as split ventilation and using additional operating room space for intensive care beds. Such innovations may be utilized to increase the long-term cardiac surgical capacity in LMICs in intensive care units, which can be rate-limiting factors when deciding to take on new patients. In addition, personal protective equipment may be preserved by reducing the number of personnel scrubbed in and switching between operations [5]. This was mirrored in Boston Children’s Hospital, where do-it-yourself elastomeric respirators were developed as a result of N95 shortages [6]. With such low-cost options being successfully incorporated into high-performance units, these examples highlight the importance of shared learning and its symbiotic relationship.

The COVID-19 era has facilitated change in clinical practice to reach a new normal, but with recent developments of imminent vaccine rollout, there is hope for resolving the challenges presented to us both in the short and long terms. With high-income countries dictating and dominating vaccine distribution, we can expect a significant hiatus before adequate herd immunity can be established in LMICs. As a result of these economic imbalances, cardiovascular care disparities will continue to pose a substantial burden. It is our moral responsibility to recognize the privileged position we inhabit and use the experiences from this pandemic to fuel shared learning and bilateral partnerships.

Treating Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease Abroad? Imperatives for Local Health System Development

Over one million children are born with congenital heart defects each year, whereas four million children live with with rheumatic heart disease. Although a majority of these patients will eventually require surgical or interventional care, most live in areas without access to safe, timely, and affordable cardiac surgical care. Countries with limited or no local cardiac surgical care spend up to over 10% of their health budgets on sending patients abroad to receive cardiac care. Similarly, billions of dollars are spent each year on international medical tourism, notably including seeking cardiac surgical care abroad. Some low- and middle-income countries have successfully invested in domestic cardiac surgical services, saving tens of millions of dollars over time whilst strengthening local health systems. In this article, we describe international medical tourism for pediatric and congenital heart disease, and present an analysis on whether expenditure in seeking foreign care for cardiovascular patients is worth the cost in light of a neglect of investments in local cardiac services in countries with growing health systems.

Interventions to improve the quality of cataract services: protocol for a global scoping review

Introduction
Cataract is the leading cause of blindness globally and a major cause of vision impairment. Cataract surgery is an efficacious intervention that usually restores vision. Although it is one of the most commonly conducted surgical interventions worldwide, good quality services (from being detected with operable cataract to undergoing surgery and receiving postoperative care) are not universally accessible. Poor quality understandably reduces the willingness of people with operable cataract to undergo surgery. Therefore, it is critical to improve the quality of care to subsequently reduce vision loss from cataract. This scoping review aims to summarise the nature and extent of the published literature on interventions to improve the quality of services for primary age-related cataract globally.

Methods and analysis
We will search MEDLINE, Embase and Global Health for peer-reviewed manuscripts published since 1990, with no language, geographic or study design restrictions. To define quality, we have used the elements adopted by the WHO—effectiveness, safety, people-centredness, timeliness, equity, integration and efficiency—to which we have added the element of planetary health. We will exclude studies focused on the technical aspects of the surgical procedure and studies that only involve children (<18 years). Two reviewers will screen all titles/abstracts independently, followed by a full-text review of potentially relevant articles. For included articles, data regarding publication characteristics, study details and quality-related outcomes will be extracted by two reviewers independently. Results will be synthesised narratively and presented visually using a spider chart.

Ethics and dissemination
Ethical approval was not sought, as our review will only include published and publicly accessible information. We will publish our findings in an open-access peer-reviewed journal and develop an accessible summary of the results for website posting. A summary of the results will be included in the ongoing Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health.

Innovative Financing to Fund Surgical Systems and Expand Surgical Care in Low-Income and Middle-Income Countries

Strong surgical systems are necessary to prevent premature death and avoidable disability from surgical conditions. The epidemiological transition, which has led to a rising burden of non-communicable diseases and injuries worldwide, will increase the demand for surgical assessment and care as a definitive healthcare intervention. Yet, 5 billion people lack access to timely, affordable and safe surgical and anaesthesia care, with the unmet demand affecting predominantly low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs). Rapid surgical care scale-up is required in LMICs to strengthen health system capabilities, but adequate financing for this expansion is lacking. This article explores the critical role of innovative financing in scaling up surgical care in LMICs. We locate surgical system financing by using a modified fiscal space analysis. Through an analysis of published studies and case studies on recent trends in the financing of global health systems, we provide a conceptual framework that could assist policy-makers in health systems to develop innovative financing strategies to mobilise additional investments for scale-up of surgical care in LMICs. This is the first time such an analysis has been applied to the funding of surgical care. Innovative financing in global surgery is an untapped potential funding source for expanding fiscal space for health systems and financing scale-up of surgical care in LMICs.

Globalization of national surgical, obstetric and anesthesia plans: the critical link between health policy and action in global surgery

Efforts from the developed world to improve surgical, anesthesia and obstetric care in low- and middle-income countries have evolved from a primarily volunteer mission trip model to a sustainable health system strengthening approach as private and public stakeholders recognize the enormous health toll and financial burden of surgical disease. The National Surgical, Obstetric and Anesthesia Plan (NSOAP) has been developed as a policy strategy for countries to address, in part, the health burden of diseases amenable to surgical care, but these plans have not developed in isolation. The NSOAP has become a phenomenon of globalization as a broad range of partners – individuals and institutions – help in both NSOAP formulation, implementation and financing. As the nexus between policy and action in the field of global surgery, the NSOAP reflects a special commitment by state actors to make progress on global goals such as Universal Health Coverage and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This requires a continued global commitment involving genuine partnerships that embrace the collective strengths of both national and global actors to deliver sustained, safe and affordable high-quality surgical care for all poor, rural and marginalized people.

Universal Access to Surgical Care and Sustainable Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Case for Surgical Systems Research

National level experiences, lessons learnt from the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era coupled with the academic evidence and proposals generated by the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery (LCoGS) together with the economic arguments and recommendations from the World Bank Group’s “Essential Surgery” Disease Control Priorities (DCP3) publication, provided the impetus for political commitments to improve surgical care capacity at the primary level of the healthcare system in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) as part of their drive towards universal health coverage (UHC) in the form of World Health Organization (WHO) Resolution A68.15.

This global commitment from governments must be followed up with development of a Global Action Plan and a global coordination mechanism supported by regional implementation frameworks on the part of the WHO in order for the organisation to better coordinate all stakeholders and sustain the technical support needed to develop and implement national surgical health policy in the form of National Surgical Obstetric and Anaesthesia Plans (NSOAPs). As expounded by Gajewski et al, data and research output on surgical care is essential to informing policy development and programme implementation. This area still remains a challenge in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) but it is envisaged that countries will include this key component in their ongoing national surgical healthcare policy development and programme implementation. In the Zambian case study, research in the area of Global Surgery investment-the surgical workforce scale-up is used to demonstrate the important role of implementation research in the development and implementation of the Zambian NSOAP as well as the need for international collaborations to this end. Scale-up reviews informed by implementation research to evaluate progress on the commitments contained in Resolution A68.15 and Decision A70.22 are essential to sustain the momentum and to help maintain focus on the gaps in all countries. There are opportunities for non-state actors especially local sub-regional academic institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector to play a key role in surgical healthcare policy development and implementation research. Collection of and better information management of standardised surgical care indicators is essential for such research, for bi-annual WHO progress reporting and for demonstration of impact to justify and encourage further investments in surgical care.

Health and sustainable development; strengthening peri-operative care in low income countries to improve maternal and neonatal outcomes

Background
Uganda is far from meeting the sustainable development goals on maternal and neonatal mortality with a maternal mortality ratio of 383/100,000 live births, and 33% of the women gave birth by 18 years. The neonatal mortality ratio was 29/1000 live births and 96 stillbirths occur every day due to placental abruption, and/or eclampsia – preeclampsia and other unkown causes. These deaths could be reduced with access to timely safe surgery and safe anaesthesia if the Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care services (CEmONC), and appropriate intensive care post operatively were implemented. A 2013 multi-national survey by Epiu et al. showed that, the Safe Surgical Checklist was not available for use at main referral hospitals in East Africa. We, therefore, set out to further assess 64 government and private hospitals in Uganda for the availability and usage of the WHO Checklists, and investigate the post-operative care of paturients; to advocate for CEmONC implementation in similarly burdened low income countries.

Methods
The cross-sectional survey was conducted at 64 government and private hospitals in Uganda using preset questionnaires.

Results
We surveyed 41% of all hospitals in Uganda: 100% of the government regional referral hospitals, 16% of government district hospitals and 33% of all private hospitals. Only 22/64 (34.38%: 95% CI = 23.56–47.09) used the WHO Safe Surgical Checklist. Additionally, only 6% of the government hospitals and 14% not-for profit hospitals had access to Intensive Care Unit (ICU) services for postoperative care compared to 57% of the private hospitals.

Conclusions
There is urgent need to make WHO checklists available and operationalized. Strengthening peri-operative care in obstetrics would decrease maternal and neonatal morbidity and move closer to the goal of safe motherhood working towards Universal Health Care.