Universal Access to Surgical Care and Sustainable Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Case for Surgical Systems Research

National level experiences, lessons learnt from the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era coupled with the academic evidence and proposals generated by the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery (LCoGS) together with the economic arguments and recommendations from the World Bank Group’s “Essential Surgery” Disease Control Priorities (DCP3) publication, provided the impetus for political commitments to improve surgical care capacity at the primary level of the healthcare system in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) as part of their drive towards universal health coverage (UHC) in the form of World Health Organization (WHO) Resolution A68.15.

This global commitment from governments must be followed up with development of a Global Action Plan and a global coordination mechanism supported by regional implementation frameworks on the part of the WHO in order for the organisation to better coordinate all stakeholders and sustain the technical support needed to develop and implement national surgical health policy in the form of National Surgical Obstetric and Anaesthesia Plans (NSOAPs). As expounded by Gajewski et al, data and research output on surgical care is essential to informing policy development and programme implementation. This area still remains a challenge in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) but it is envisaged that countries will include this key component in their ongoing national surgical healthcare policy development and programme implementation. In the Zambian case study, research in the area of Global Surgery investment-the surgical workforce scale-up is used to demonstrate the important role of implementation research in the development and implementation of the Zambian NSOAP as well as the need for international collaborations to this end. Scale-up reviews informed by implementation research to evaluate progress on the commitments contained in Resolution A68.15 and Decision A70.22 are essential to sustain the momentum and to help maintain focus on the gaps in all countries. There are opportunities for non-state actors especially local sub-regional academic institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector to play a key role in surgical healthcare policy development and implementation research. Collection of and better information management of standardised surgical care indicators is essential for such research, for bi-annual WHO progress reporting and for demonstration of impact to justify and encourage further investments in surgical care.

Fellowship exit examination in orthopaedic surgery in the commonwealth countries of Australia, UK, South Africa and Canada. Are they comparable and equivalent? A perspective on the requirements for medical migration

nternational migration of healthcare professionals has increased substantially in recent decades. In order to practice medicine in the recipient country, International Medical Graduates (IMG) are required to fulfil the requirements of their new countries medical registration authorities. The purpose of this project was to compare the final fellowship exit examination in Orthopaedic Surgery for the UK, Australia, Canada and South Africa. The curriculum of the Australian Orthopaedic Association (SET) was selected as a baseline reference. The competencies and technical modules specified in the training syllabus, as well as the specifics of the final fellowship examination as outlined in SET, were then compared between countries. Of the nine competencies outlined in SET, the curricula of the UK, South Africa and Canada were all compatible with the Australian syllabus, and covered 97.7%, 86% and 93%, respectively, of all competencies and sub-items. The final fellowship examinations of Australia, South Africa and the UK were all highly similar in format and content. The examination in Canada was substantially different, and had two written sessions but combined the oral and clinical component into a structured OSCE using standardized patients and the component included unmanned stations. There were no significant differences for completion certificate of training and/or board certification observed between these countries. The results of this study strongly suggest that core and technical competencies outlined in the training and education curriculum and the final fellowship examination in Orthopaedic Surgery in Australia, South Africa and the UK are compatible. Between country reciprocal recognition of these fellowship examinations should not only be considered by the relevant Colleges, but should also be regulated by the individual countries health practitioner registration boards and governing bodies.

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.

A Framework for the Monitoring and Evaluation of International Surgical Initiatives in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

An estimated two billion people worldwide lack adequate access to surgical care. To address this humanitarian emergency, an increasing number of international surgical partnerships are emerging between developed and low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). At present, there are no clear indicators that may be used to assess the effectiveness of such initiatives.
Study Design
We conducted an international qualitative study of 31 surgeons from developed and LMICs involved in international partnerships across a variety of subspecialties. Thematic analysis and grounded theory were applied in order to develop a practical framework that may be applied to monitor and evaluate global surgical initiatives.
Several themes emerged from the study: (i) there is a large unmet need to establish and maintain prospective databases in LMICs to inform the monitoring and evaluation of international surgical partnerships; (ii) assessment of initiatives must occur longitudinally over the span of several years; (ii) the domains of assessment are contextual and encompass cultural, institutional and regional factors; and (iv) evaluation strategies should explore broader impact within the community and country. Based on thematic analysis within the domains of inputs, outputs and outcomes, a framework for the monitoring and evaluation of international surgical initiatives, the Framework for the Assessment of InteRNational Surgical Success
(FAIRNeSS) is proposed.
In response to the increasing number of surgical partnerships between developed and LMICs, we propose a framework to monitor and evaluate international surgical initiatives.

Barriers to Neurosurgical Training in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Need for a Phased Approach to Global Surgery Efforts to Improve Neurosurgical Care

BACKGROUND: Neurosurgery in low-income countries is faced with multiple challenges. Although the most common challenges include infrastructure and physical resource deficits, an underemphasized barrier relates to the methods and components of surgical training. The role of important aspects, including didactic surgical training, surgical decision-making, workshops, conferences, and assessment methods, has not been duly studied. Knowledge of these issues is a crucial step to move closer to strengthening surgical capacity in low-income countries.
METHODS: We designed an online survey to assess self-perceived and objectively measured barriers to neurosurgical training in various Sub-Saharan African countries. Key outcomes included perception toward adequacy of neurosurgery training and barriers to neurosurgical training at each individual site.
RESULTS: Only 37% of responders felt that their training program adequately prepared them for handling incoming neurosurgical cases. Top perceived limitations of neurosurgery training included lack of physical resources (25% of all responses), lack of practical workshops (22%), lack of program structure (18%), and lack of topic-specific lectures (10%).
CONCLUSIONS: Our results show that most responders believe their training program is inadequate and are interested in improving it through international collaborations. This implies that activities directed at strengthening surgical capacity must address this important necessity. One important strategy is the use of online educational tools. In consideration of the observed limitations in care, resources, and training, we recommend a phased approach to neurosurgical growth in low-income settings.

Trachomatous trichiasis and its management in endemic countries

Trichiasis is the sight-threatening consequence of conjunctival scarring in trachoma, the most common infectious cause of blindness worldwide. Trachomatous trichiasis is the result of multiple infections from childhood with Chlamydia trachomatis, which causes recurrent chronic inflammation in the tarsal conjunctiva. This produces conjunctival scarring, entropion, trichiasis, and ultimately blinding corneal opacification. The disease causes painful, usually irreversible sight loss. Over eight million people have trachomatous trichiasis, mostly those living in poor rural communities in 57 endemic countries. The global cost is estimated at US$ 5.3 billion. The WHO recommends surgery as part of the SAFE strategy for controlling the disease.We examine the principles of clinical management, treatment options, and the challenging issues of providing the quantity and quality of surgery that is needed in resource-poor settings.

Why do patients refuse trichiasis surgery? Lessons and an education initiative from Mtwara Region, Tanzania.

Trachomatous trichiasis is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness worldwide. A relatively simple surgery can spare vision. Although this surgery is usually performed free of charge in endemic regions, multiple studies indicate that surgical refusal is common. Prior studies have attempted to examine these reasons, although they generally rely on patient recall months to years after the surgery was offered. This study set out to determine major decision-making factors at the time of refusal. In addition, this study looked for ways to help increase surgical uptake by targeting modifiable factors.

We used a combination of focus groups, interviews with community health workers, and individual interviews with trichiasis patients who refused surgery to understand their decision-making. We found that several factors influenced surgical refusals, including misconception regarding recovery time, inability to find a post-surgical caregiver, and the time of year of the surgical campaign. Fear of the surgery itself played a minimal role in refusals.

Trichiasis patients refuse surgery for many reasons, but a large percentage is due to lack of information and education, and is, therefore, modifiable within the structure of a surgical outreach project. To address this, we developed a “frequently asked questions” (FAQ) document aimed at community health workers, which may have helped to decrease some of the misconceptions that had led to prior refusals.

Gender-based analysis of factors affecting junior medical students’ career selection: addressing the shortage of surgical workforce in Rwanda.

There is a strong need for expanding surgical workforce in low- and middle-income countries. However, the number of medical students selecting surgical careers is not sufficient to meet this need. In Rwanda, there is an additional gender gap in speciality selection. Our study aims to understand the early variables involved in junior medical students’ preference of specialisation with a focus on gender disparities.

We performed a cross-sectional survey of medical students during their clinical rotation years at the University of Rwanda. Demographics, specialisation preference, and factors involved in that preference were obtained using questionnaires and analysed using descriptive statistics and odds ratios.

One hundred eighty-one respondents participated in the study (49.2% response rate) with a female-to-male ratio of 1 to 2.5. Surgery was the preferred speciality for 46.9% of male participants, and obstetrics/gynaecology for 29.4% of females. The main selection criteria for those who had already decided on surgery as a career included intellectual challenge (60.0%), interaction with residents (52.7%), and core clerkship experience (41.8%) for male participants and interaction with residents (57.1%), intellectual challenge (52.4%), and core clerkship experience (52.4%) for female participants. Females were more likely than males to join surgery based on perceived research opportunities (OR 2.7, p = 0.04). Male participants were more likely than their female participants to drop selection of surgery as a speciality when an adverse interaction with a resident was encountered (OR 0.26, p = 0.03).

This study provides insight into factors that guide Rwandan junior medical students’ speciality preference. Medical students are more likely to consider surgical careers when exposed to positive clerkship experiences that provide intellectual challenges, as well as focused mentorship that facilitates effective research opportunities. Ultimately, creating a comprehensive curriculum that supports students’ preferences may help encourage their selection of surgical careers.

Education in ear and hearing care in remote or resource-constrained environments.

At the heart of surgical care needs to be the education and training of staff, particularly in the low-income and/or resource-poor setting. This is the primary means by which self-sufficiency and sustainability will ultimately be achieved. As such, training and education should be integrated into any surgical programme that is undertaken. Numerous resources are available to help provide such a goal, and an open approach to novel, inexpensive training methods is likely to be helpful in this type of setting.The need for appropriately trained audiologists in low-income countries is well recognised and clearly goes beyond providing support for ear surgery. However, where ear surgery is being undertaken, it is vital to have audiology services established in order to correctly assess patients requiring surgery, and to be able to assess and manage outcomes of surgery. The training requirements of the two specialties are therefore intimately linked.This article highlights various methods, resources and considerations, for both otolaryngology and audiology training, which should prove a useful resource to those undertaking and organising such education, and to those staff members receiving it.

Backward Planning a Craniomaxillofacial Trauma Curriculum for the Surgical Workforce in Low-Resource Settings.

Trauma is a significant contributor to global disease, and low-income countries disproportionately shoulder this burden. Education and training are critical components in the effort to address the surgical workforce shortage. Educators can tailor training to a diverse background of health professionals in low-resource settings using competency-based curricula. We present a process for the development of a competency-based curriculum for low-resource settings in the context of craniomaxillofacial (CMF) trauma education.

CMF trauma surgeons representing 7 low-, middle-, and high-income countries conducted a standardized educational curriculum development program. Patient problems related to facial injuries were identified and ranked from highest to lowest morbidity. Higher morbidity problems were categorized into 4 modules with agreed upon competencies. Methods of delivery (lectures, case discussions, and practical exercises) were selected to optimize learning of each competency.

A facial injuries educational curriculum (1.5 days event) was tailored to health professionals with diverse training backgrounds who care for CMF trauma patients in low-resource settings. A backward planned, competency-based curriculum was organized into four modules titled: acute (emergent), eye (periorbital injuries and sight preserving measures), mouth (dental injuries and fracture care), and soft tissue injury treatments. Four courses have been completed with pre- and post-course assessments completed.

Surgeons and educators from a diverse geographic background found the backward planning curriculum development method effective in creating a competency-based facial injuries (trauma) course for health professionals in low-resource settings, where contextual aspects of shortages of surgical capacity, equipment, and emergency transportation must be considered.