A traveling fellowship to build surgical capacity in Ethiopia: the Jimma University specialized hospital and operation smile partnership

A lack of trained providers is an important contributor to the unmet burden of surgical disease treatment in low- and middle-income countries. The World Health Organization’s Commission on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel lays out guiding principles for addressing this workforce crisis. However, for surgical subspecialties such as plastic surgery, in-country training opportunities remain limited and there is a clear need for effective strategies to retain providers and develop sustainable solutions. We report the design and early implementation of a traveling fellowship in plastic surgery for providers at Jimma University Specialized Hospital in Jimma, Ethiopia. This fellowship is supported by Operation Smile and its network of international surgical volunteers. Since its inception, the program has trained 2 general surgeons with a commitment to helping train a total of 6 surgeons to establish a self-sustaining service. Key innovations include multiple international sites to facilitate broad subspecialty training, commitment of participants to return to Jimma upon completion of the program to establish a local training service, and coordination with national governing bodies to ensure program recognition and support. Ongoing challenges include physical resource limitations and coordination with a wide array of stakeholders. Nongovernmental organizations also have a role to play in supporting the Ministries of Health in scaling up human resources for improved health within their countries. Operation Smile’s traveling fellowship demonstrates a feasible method of addressing the health workforce crisis by providing specialized training and facilitating the development of surgical teaching programs capable of sustainably serving local communities.

Pediatric neurosurgical workforce, access to care, equipment and training needs worldwide.

The presence and capability of existing pediatric neurosurgical care worldwide is unknown. The objective of this study was to solicit the expertise of specialists to quantify the geographic representation of pediatric neurosurgeons, access to specialist care, and equipment and training needs globally.

A mixed-question survey was sent to surgeon members of several international neurosurgical and general pediatric surgical societies via a web-based platform. Respondents answered questions on 5 categories: surgeon demographics and training, hospital and practice details, surgical workforce and access to neurosurgical care, training and equipment needs, and desire for international collaboration. Responses were anonymized and analyzed using Stata software.

A total of 459 surgeons from 76 countries responded. Pediatric neurosurgeons in high-income and upper-middle-income countries underwent formal pediatric training at a greater rate than surgeons in low- and lower-middle-income countries (89.5% vs 54.4%). There are an estimated 2297 pediatric neurosurgeons in practice globally, with 85.6% operating in high-income and upper-middle-income countries. In low- and lower-middle-income countries, roughly 330 pediatric neurosurgeons care for a total child population of 1.2 billion. In low-income countries in Africa, the density of pediatric neurosurgeons is roughly 1 per 30 million children. A higher proportion of patients in low- and lower-middle-income countries must travel > 2 hours to seek emergency neurosurgical care, relative to high-income countries (75.6% vs 33.6%, p < 0.001). Vast basic and essential training and equipment needs exist, particularly low- and lower-middle-income countries within Africa, South America, the Eastern Mediterranean, and South-East Asia. Eighty-nine percent of respondents demonstrated an interest in international collaboration for the purposes of pediatric neurosurgical capacity building.

Wide disparity in the access to pediatric neurosurgical care exists globally. In low- and lower-middle-income countries, wherein there exists the greatest burden of pediatric neurosurgical disease, there is a grossly insufficient presence of capable providers and equipped facilities. Neurosurgeons across income groups and geographic regions share a desire for collaboration and partnership.