Though the number of surgeries worldwide increased over the last decade, only about one-third are performed in poor countries, says a new study from Stanford University Medical Center. Globally, the number of operations rose 38 percent between 2004 and 2012 — reaching nearly 313 million procedures in 2012. However, of those procedures conducted in 2012, nearly 70 percent was on patients in richer countries.
Only around 30 percent of these surgeries were conducted in the 104 countries where annual medical spending was less than $400 per person. These countries together accounted for more than five billion people, or a little over 70 percent of the world’s population. In addition to disparities in access, the safety of surgical care is of utmost concern, in light of the huge and growing volume of operations being performed annually around the world, say the report’s authors.
They point out that surgical care can be lifesaving and also helps prevent long-term disability due to injuries, infections, cancers and maternal conditions. The study also raised questions about whether countries are providing the most essential operations. For example, cesarean deliveries accounted for about 30 percent of all surgeries in poor nations, and less than three percent of surgeries in 44 rich countries.
The study findings suggest that while countries may be providing more cesarean sections per capita than a decade ago, other emergency and lifesaving surgical care is simply not available for the majority of people in need in low- and middle-income countries.