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Routine Surgeries Could Save Millions of Lives, if They Were Available

The New York Times
By Donald G. McNeil Jr.
April 27, 2015

(Click here to view the original article.)

Millions of people worldwide die from appendicitis, obstructed labor, compound fractures and other treatable conditions for lack of routine surgeries, according to a report released Sunday. Because too few surgeons and anesthetists practice in most poor and middle-income countries, five billion of the world’s seven billion people cannot get lifesaving surgeries or cannot pay for them, the report said.

The report was produced for a conference held in London this week by the Royal Society of Medicine. It was published in the journals Surgery and The Lancet Global Health.

A third of the world’s population lives in poor countries, but only 5 percent of the 313 million annual surgeries take place in those countries, the report found. As a result, avoidable deaths from car and motorbike crashes, farm accidents and violence are more common than in wealthier nations, and many people die of hernias, infected gall bladders, bleeding under the skull and other conditions that surgeons routinely handle elsewhere. Some with cancer do not get life-prolonging operations, and some with cataracts go blind.

The idea that surgery is possible only in rich countries “is a pervasive misconception,” said Dr. John Meara, a professor of global surgery at Harvard Medical School and a lead author of the report.

The global surgical shortage has been noted before, but this report found the problem to be larger than a 2010 survey, which found that two billion people had no access to properly equipped operating rooms.

To ease the shortage, Dr. Meara has previously suggested, for example, that non-doctors be trained in cesarean sections to save women’s lives.