While surgeries are being performed with increasing frequency in the developing world, billions of people still lack access to safe, affordable surgical care. According to a study published in March in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, the estimated annual number of operations performed around the globe rose 38 percent, from about 224 million to nearly 313 million, between 2004 and 2012. Yet only 30 percent of those procedures took place in countries spending less than $400 per capita annually on health care — nations that together account for 71 percent of the world’s population.
The study, which looked at data from 194 members of the World Health Organization, also found that 30 percent of surgical procedures in the developing world are cesarean sections. This suggests that other significant surgical needs, such as traumatic injuries and cancer care, are being given low priority, says Thomas Weiser, MD, an assistant professor of surgery at Stanford and the study’s lead author. “Surgery is a very unsupported discipline in some parts of the world, in terms of infrastructure,” he observes. There’s also “obviously a brain-drain issue,” he says, “as trained providers leave their home countries to practice elsewhere.”