CONCORD, Massachusetts — A new study in the “Lancet Journal” found that one-third of all global deaths in 2010 were due to complications that are easily treatable with a commonplace procedure. Such complications include appendicitis, broken bones and obstruction during labor.
These deaths occurred because most people in the developing world do not have access to safe surgery. Around the world, nine out of 10 people find it very difficult to attain basic surgeries and aftercare. Low- and middle-income locations saw the highest rate of deaths.
Many of those mortalities were pregnant women who died because of complications during pregnancy or delivering their babies. The study found that about 90 percent of maternal deaths could be avoided if they had better surgical care.
“We are talking about hundreds of thousands of mothers and infants per year. A lot of lives are at risk,” says Dr. David Barash. He and his international group of doctors published the Lancet study.
Barash is the chief medical officer at the GE Foundation. He works to help people in developing countries gain access to adequate medical equipment as well as trained medical professionals. For several years, he researched surgeries and operating rooms in places like Kenya and Myanmar.
Barash was appalled at the severe lack of equipment, trained workers, and sanitation. Clinics have no sterilizers, clean water, or dependable power sources. Even with the largest and most well-established clinics, disparities are inevitable.
These shortages occur in countries where people suffer from severe poverty and malnutrition as well as widespread cases of HIV—up to half the population in some places.
Many times workers have multiple functions during operations. Barash mentions a time that he watched an obstetrician coach a nurse on how to administer anesthesia and, at the same time, perform a cesarean section on a woman.
Other than maternal procedures, death also results quite commonly from broken bones, especially in cases where the skin is broken and with laparotomies meant to mend internal wounds or remove tumors.
Health centers run on minimal costs. Lab tests and x-rays are used very sparingly and only basic medication is given. More costly or complex treatments or medicine must be purchased by family members.
Blood transfusions are rarely performed because of the high amount of blood-born and blood-transferable illnesses in developing populations. Normally, just local anesthesia is used.
Post-operative care is just as important and just as uncertain. Sometimes nurses have not received proper training or are not familiar with the patient’s specific procedure’s aftercare.
In these instances, patients may have a successful surgery, but die in the stages afterward due to poor suctioning, unnoticed bleeding, or deficient checking of airway status.
These circumstances are typical for billions which makes surgical procedures, even the most minimal ones, incredibly dangerous. If the world achieved safe surgery world-wide, it would hugely affect mortality rates.
It is a costly investment to provide good equipment and trained doctors. A study done by the World Health Organization reported that it would take $420 billion throughout the next 15 years in order to increase the safety of surgery in third world countries.
Yet it was also reported that safer surgical procedures would improve the economy of these countries by boosting the health of communities all over the world. The same report found that basic surgical requirements are more cost-effective than originally thought.
Surgeries, when successful, save lives and avoid long-term disabilities.
– Lillian Sickler