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EB 150: Why were surgery and anaesthesia neglected?


Last week, the eyes of the health community were on the World Health Organization’s 150th Executive Board, a group of 34 technically qualified members elected, who meets every year to implement the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly and advise and facilitate its work. 

As a global health organisation that strongly supports Health for All, KidsOR believes that the global health community must reaffirm the basic tenant that unacceptable health inequities cannot persist. 

Surgery and anaesthesia are essential to Universal Health Coverage 

As WHO Director-General Dr Tedros highlighted, even before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, we were far from achieving the goal of ensuring that one billion more people benefit from universal health coverage (UHC). And although in 2015 governments worldwide recognised surgery and anaesthesia as key components of UHC and health systems strengthening, surgery was a neglected topic at the #EB150. 

Surgically treatable conditions account for an estimated one-third of the global burden of disease. Despite this, most health facilities in low-income countries do not have the capacity to deliver basic surgical services. 

Surgical systems strengthening requires a cross-cutting approach that includes a skilled and diverse workforce, adaptable infrastructure, triage and referral systems, amongst others. Surgery overlaps with almost all medical specialties and consequently strengthening surgical systems benefits wider health systems and supports other health goals as well as potential epidemiological shifts.

Why surgery must be included in health forums and strategies

A roadmap to ensuring safe access to surgery and anaesthesia is urgently needed if we want to reduce preventable deaths, disabling morbidity, and loss of economic productivity. Universal health coverage and the health-related targets of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) cannot be achieved without considering the consensually acknowledged role of surgery, which includes investment in the surgical care of children. 

Finally, as a global health organisation we support a sustainably financed WHO, which inescapably includes an increase of assessed contributions. 

It’s clear that the WHO’s growing dependence on earmarked funds has been influencing the priorities in global health agenda in favour of wealthy donors, whether governmental or non-State actors, and donor-driven vertical health interventions. To achieve the health-related SDGs, the world needs an effective, accountable, democratic, and transparent global health governance. 

It’s time the global health community stands together. The Covid-19 pandemic has showed us that investment in health systems strengthening is urgent and must be a priority. And surgery is and must be seen a key tool for it.

Guest blog by Maira Fedatto, Head of Research at Kids Operating Room

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