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Health

Access to surgical care = lives saved. Period.

Flickr: CDReilly

Improving global health and ending extreme poverty go hand in hand.

When children suffer from poor health, they miss out on school which limits their opportunities for a better future. They’re unable to work to their full capacity, making it difficult to provide for their families and impossible to lift themselves out of poverty. This cycle of poverty is then passed along to the next generation, each time becoming more difficult to break.

The connection between poor health and poverty is hardly news. But it’s not enough to identify this larger issue as a problem; we have to take it a step further, and determine what the contributing factors leading to poor health are, so that we can nip them in the bud.

On Global Citizen, we’ve covered some of these. Lack of access to life-saving vaccines is one factor that leads to poor health. Limited access to clean water and sanitation are contributors too. Malnutrition and undernutrition are responsible as well. By addressing these issues, we can make real gains in improving global health, thus eliminating extreme poverty.

A less discussed aspect of improving global health access is limited access to safe affordable, and high quality essential surgical care. It’s a serious issue that gets relatively little attention, and that has to change. Here are 8 things you should know:

1. Today, 2 billion people have no access at all to quality essential surgical care.

That might not sound like such a big deal if you’re young, healthy, and have never required surgery (guilty). But consider this: the number of conditions requiring surgical care including injuries and non-communicable diseases (diseases that can’t be passed from person to person) has overtaken that of infectious diseases. That’s partially because conditions like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are increasing dramatically in developing countries.

2. Surgical care is needed by pretty much everyone.

Flickr: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

It’s required for nearly all disease categories and needed by people of every age group and socioeconomic status. See why it’s called essential surgical care?

3. Lack of access to safe and timely surgical care results in more deaths and disability than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

As a global community we’ve worked together to tackle these diseases and made tremendous progress. We need to make sure that surgical care receives similar attention and action in order to improve global health. We’ve proven we can accomplish so much when we put our minds to it, so what’s the hold up?

4. Lack of surgical care disproportionately affects people living in developing countries.

Flickr: Calcutta Rescue

Just to compare- Africa, with a population of 1.1 billion, has only 1% the number of practicing surgeons as the United States, which only has a population of 314 million. That’s messed up.

5. This kind of inequality has led to 1 in 7 marginalized people in the world affected by a lack of surgical care.

Lack of surgical care intersects with all known disease categories. As such, we can’t even begin to make progress in improving global health so long as surgical care is inaccessible. It’s like trying to blow up a balloon that is covered in tiny holes. Not going to happen.

6. A lack of access to quality essential surgical care creates a huge burden on regional and national health systems.

Flickr: Daniel Bachhuber

Addressing this issue is a win win on all fronts.

7. 17 basic surgical interventions can address over 85% of surgical needs in low-resource settings. Best of all: they don’t need to be completed by doctors.

Instead, interventions can be completed by qualified doctors or suitably trained health care providers who have received procedure-specific training. This is especially significant in rural areas where surgeons are scarce, and it means there is potential to dramatically increase access to surgical care even without increasing the number of surgeons in the developed world.

8. 2015 is THE year to ensure that all people, regardless of their geography or socioeconomic status, have access to quality essential surgical care.

This year, as world leaders set global priorities for the next 15 years, organizations like The Global Alliance for Surgical, Obstetric, Trauma, and Anaesthesia Care (The G4 Alliance for short) will be pushing to build political priority for surgical care.


Expanding access to essential surgical care is a no-brainer; it fits within established goals like universal health coverage, ending poverty, and achieving gender equality through access to essential reproductive health services. The time is now- let’s make sure quality essential surgical care is part of the global discussion on development so that more lives are saved.

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Christina Nuñez