A longitudinal surgical systems strengthening research program for medical students: the exploration of a model for global health education

In response to the staggering global burden of conditions requiring emergency and essential surgery, the development of international surgical system strengthening (SSS) is fundamental to achieving universal, timely, quality, and affordable surgical care. Opportunity exists in identifying optimal collaborative processes that both promote global surgery research and SSS, and include medical students. This study explores an education model to engage students in academic global surgery and SSS via institutional support for longitudinal research.

We set out to design a program to align global health education and longitudinal health systems research by creating an education model to engage medical students in academic global surgery and SSS.

Program design and implementation
In 2015, medical schools in the United States and Colombia initiated a collaborative partnership for academic global surgery research and SSS. This included development of two longitudinal academic tracks in global health medical education and academic global surgery, which we differentiated by level of institutional resourcing. Herein is a retrospective evaluation of the first two years of this program by using commonly recognized academic output metrics.

Main achievements
In the first two years of the program, there were 76 total applicants to the two longitudinal tracks. Six of the 16 (37.5%) accepted students selected global surgery faculty as mentors (Acute Care Surgery faculty participating in SSS with Colombia). These global surgery students subsequently spent 24 total working weeks abroad over the two-year period participating in culminating research experiences in SSS. As a quantitative measure of the program’s success, the students collectively produced a total of twenty scholarly pieces in the form of accepted posters, abstracts, podium presentations, and manuscripts in partnership with Colombian research mentors.

Policy implications
The establishment of scholarly global health education and research tracks has afforded our medical students an active role in international SSS through participation in academic global surgery research. We propose that these complementary programs can serve as a model for disseminated education and training of the future global systems-aware surgeon workforce with bidirectional growth in south and north regions with traditionally under-resourced SSS training programs.

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)

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).

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.

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.

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 health service delivery networks in achieving universal health coverage in Africa

Most countries in Africa are faced with health system problems that vary from one to the next. Countries with a low Human Development Index (HDI) seem to be more prone to challenges in health service delivery. To mark its 70th anniversary on World Health Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) selected the theme “Universal Health Coverage (UHC): Everyone, Everywhere” and the slogan “Health for All. ”UHC refers to ensuring that all people have access to needed health services (including prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliation) of sufficient quality to be effective while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship. UHC is a WHO’s priority objective. Most governments have made it their major goal.

This paper provides a perspective on the challenges of achieving UHC in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). It also endeavors to spotlight the successful models of Health Service Delivery Networks (HSDNs) that make significant strides in making progress towards achieving UHC. HSDNs propose models that facilitate the attainment of affordability and accessibility while maintaining quality in delivering health services. Additionally, it brings up to speed the challenges associated with setting up HSDNs in health systems in SSA. It then makes propositions of what measures and strategic approaches should be implemented to strengthen HSDNs in SSA. This paper further argues that UHC is not only technically feasible but it is also attainable if countries embrace HSDNs in SSA.

Measuring barriers to fistula care: investigating composite measures for targeted fistula programming in Nigeria and Uganda

Accessing surgical repair poses challenges to women living with female genital fistula who experience intersectional vulnerabilities including poverty, gender, stigma and geography. Barriers to fistula care have been described qualitatively in several low- and middle-income countries, but limited effort has been made to quantify these factors. This study aimed to develop and validate composite measures to assess barriers to accessing fistula repair in Nigeria and Uganda.

This quantitative study built on qualitative findings to content validate composite measures and investigates post-repair client surveys conducted at tertiary hospitals in Northern and Southern Nigeria and Central Uganda asking women about the degree to which a range of barriers affected their access. An iterative scale development approach included exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses of two samples (n = 315 and n = 142, respectively) using STATA 13 software. Reliability, goodness-of-fit, and convergent and predictive validity were assessed.

A preliminary 43-item list demonstrated face and content validity, triangulated with qualitative data collected prior to and concurrently with survey data. The iterative item reduction approach resulted in the validation of a set of composite measures, including two indices and three sub-scales. These include a Financial/Transport Inaccessibility Index (6 items) and a multidimensional Barriers to Fistula Care Index of 17 items comprised of three latent sub-scales: Limited awareness (4 items), Social abandonment (6 items), and Internalized stigma (7 items). Factor analyses resulted in favorable psychometric properties and good reliability across measures (ordinal thetas: 0.70–0.91). Higher levels of barriers to fistula care are associated with a woman living with fistula for longer periods of time, with age and geographic settings as potential confounders.

This set of composite measures that quantitatively captures barriers to fistula care can be used separately or together in research and programming in low- and middle-income countries.

Assessing the Indirect Effects of COVID-19 on Healthcare Delivery, Utilization, and Health Outcomes: A Scoping Review

The COVID-19 pandemic and global efforts to contain its spread, such as stay-at-home orders and transportation shutdowns, have created new barriers to accessing healthcare, resulting in changes in service delivery and utilization globally. The purpose of this study is to provide an overview of the literature published thus far on the indirect health effects of COVID-19 and to explore the data sources and methodologies being used to assess indirect health effects.

A scoping review of peer-reviewed literature using three search engines was performed.

One hundred and seventy studies were included in the final analysis. Nearly half (46.5%) of included studies focused on cardiovascular health outcomes. The main methodologies used were observational analytic and surveys. Data was drawn from individual health facilities, multicentre networks, regional registries, and national health information systems. Most studies were conducted in high-income countries with only 35.4% of studies representing low- and middle-income countries.

Healthcare utilization for non-COVID-19 conditions has decreased almost universally, across both high- and lower-income countries. The pandemic’s impact on non-COVID-19 health outcomes, particularly for chronic diseases, may take years to fully manifest and should be a topic of ongoing study. Future research should be tied to system improvement and the promotion of health equity, with researchers identifying potentially actionable findings for national, regional, and local health leadership. Public health professionals must also seek to address the disparity in published data from LMICs as compared to high-income countries.

Broader health impacts of vertical responses to Covid-19 in low- and middle-income countries

The COVID-19 pandemic has undermined capacity and efforts to address other health needs that are just as pressing as the virus itself, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Pressure on governments to act on COVID-19 now to save “immediately identifiable lives” rather than “statistical lives at risk”1 has had and will continue to have harmful short- and long-term consequences for other areas of health. This paper reviews the effects of vertical responses to COVID-19 on health systems, services, and people’s access to and use of them in LMICs, where historic and ongoing under-investments heighten vulnerability to a multiplicity of health threats. We use the term ‘vertical response’ to describe decisions, measures and actions taken solely with the purpose of preventing and containing COVID-19, often without adequate consideration of how this affects the wider health system and pre-existing resource constraints. Through four main sections focused on 1) characterising vertical response, 2) the drivers of broader health impacts, 3) evidence of impacts, and finally 4) suggestions for mitigation, we provide insight for actors in government, agencies, organisations and communities to design and implement more proportionate, appropriate, comprehensive and socially just responses that address COVID-19 without compromising other aspects of health. Beyond immediate action, there is a need to re-evaluate priorities and approaches in global health, both in the context of COVID-19 and beyond. If the well-being of all people is truly valued, ‘whole of health’ approaches which account for health trade-offs of COVID-19 response in the short-term, and address the health needs of diverse populations in the medium- to long-term are crucial.

Assessment of diagnostics capacity in hospitals providing surgical care in two Latin American states

Diagnostic services are an essential component of high-quality surgical, anesthesia and obstetric (SAO) care. Efforts to scale up SAO care in Latin America have often overlooked diagnostics capacity. This study aims to analyze the capacity of diagnostic services, including radiology, pathology, and laboratory medicine, in hospitals providing SAO care in the states of Chiapas, Mexico and Amazonas, Brazil.

A stratified cross-sectional evaluation of diagnostic capacity in hospitals performing surgery in Chiapas and Amazonas was performed using the Surgical Assessment Tool (SAT). National data sources were queried for indicators of diagnostics capacity in terms of workforce, infrastructure and diagnosis utilization. Fisher’s exact tests and chi-square tests were used to compare categorical variables between the private and public sector in Chiapas while descriptive statistics are used to compare Amazonas and Chiapas.

In Chiapas, 53% (n = 17) of public and 34% (n = 20) of private hospitals providing SAO care were assessed. More private hospitals than public hospitals could always provide x-rays (35% vs 23.5%) and ultrasound (85% vs 47.1%). However neither sector could consistently perform basic laboratory testing such as complete blood counts (70.6% public, 65% private). In Amazonas, 30% (n = 18) of rural hospitals were surveyed. Most had functioning x-ray machine (77.8%) and ultrasound (55.6%). The majority of hospitals could provide complete blood count (66.7%) but only one hospital (5.6%) could always perform an infectious panel. Both Chiapas and Amazonas had dramatically fewer diagnostic practitioners per capita in each state compared to the national average capacity.

Facilities providing SAO care in low-resource states in Mexico and Brazil often lack functioning diagnostics services and workforce. Scale-up of diagnostic services is essential to improve SAO care and should occur with emphasis on equitable and adequate resource allocation.

Surgical referrals in Northern Tanzania: a prospective assessment of rates, preventability, reasons and patterns

An effective referral system is essential for a high-quality health system that provides safe surgical care while optimizing patient outcomes and ensuring efficiency. The role of referral systems in countries with under-resourced health systems is poorly understood. The aim of this study was to examine the rates, preventability, reasons and patterns of outward referrals of surgical patients across three levels of the healthcare system in Northern Tanzania.

Referrals from surgical and obstetric wards were assessed at 20 health facilities in five rural regions prospectively over 3 months. Trained physician data collectors used data collection forms to capture referral details daily from hospital referral letters and through discussions with clinicians and nurses. Referrals were deemed preventable if the presenting condition was one that should be managed at the referring facility level per the national surgical, obstetric and anaesthesia plan but was referred.

Seven hundred forty-three total outward referrals were recorded during the study period. The referral rate was highest at regional hospitals (2.9%), followed by district hospitals (1.9%) and health centers (1.5%). About 35% of all referrals were preventable, with the highest rate from regional hospitals (70%). The most common reasons for referrals were staff-related (76%), followed by equipment (55%) and drugs or supplies (21%). Patient preference accounted for 1% of referrals. Three quarters of referrals (77%) were to the zonal hospital, followed by the regional hospitals (17%) and district hospitals (12%). The most common reason for referral to zonal (84%) and regional level (66%) hospitals was need for specialist care while the most common reason for referral to district level hospitals was non-functional imaging diagnostic equipment (28%).

Improving the referral system in Tanzania, in order to improve quality and efficiency of patient care, will require significant investments in human resources and equipment to meet the recommended standards at each level of care. Specifically, improving access to specialists at regional referral and district hospitals is likely to reduce the number of preventable referrals to higher level hospitals, thereby reducing overcrowding at higher-level hospitals and improving the efficiency of the health system.

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.