Surgery is meant to save you, but it could kill you

Millions of people are dying from treatable conditions. Worse still, millions are dying from attempting to treat their conditions. Globally, 4.2 million people die within 30 days of undergoing surgery each year. Half of those deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, says a study by the medical journal, The Lancet.

Even with the high number of deaths after surgery, there is a significant unmet need for surgery in these countries as 16·9 million people die from conditions that require surgical care each year. Researchers at the universities of Cape Town (UCT) and Birmingham say that if everyone in need of operation had them, the number of global post-operative deaths would increase to 6.1 million a year, an additional 1.9 million deaths.

It is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population does not have access to safe, affordable, and timely surgical care.

Despite the surgery patients in Africa needing minor surgeries as well as having fewer complications, the risk of death on the continent is double the global average and it is among the younger generation who are mostly the ones in need of surgeries. Meaning that African surgical patients were twice as likely to die after a planned surgery. In total, 239 (2·1 percent) of 11,193 patients died.

Complications following surgery occurred in 18.2 percent of all patients (1,977/10,885 people), and the most common complications were infections which accounted for 58.7 percent of all complications (1,156/1,970) and one out of every ten people with complications died.

Presently, a meagre number (12 percent of the world’s 2.1 million specialists surgical workforce, including surgeons, anesthesiologists, and obstetricians, practice in African or South East Asian countries. With only 12 percent practising in Africa, physicians and specialist on the continent are still migrating to European countries contributing to the worldwide health workforce imbalances. The migration of over 5000 doctors from sub-Saharan Africa, especially Nigeria to the United States of America has had a significantly negative effect on the doctor-to-patient)  ratio of Africa as well as the increase of surgical deaths.

Africa bears more than 24 percent of the global burden of disease and surgical death but has access to only 3 percent of health workers and less than 1 percent of the world’s financial resources according to World Health Organisation. The poor state of health systems, the migration of physicians and the lack of financial resources all contribute to the surgical deaths in Africa.