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The Importance of Pediatric Surgery in the Developing World

Healthcare programs often dismiss the importance of pediatric surgery in the developing world. Access to surgeons is treated as a superfluous medical resource rather than a necessity and therefore becomes extremely limited. The only pediatric surgeons in Kenya are located in Nairobi, making them difficult for most Kenyans to visit. In actuality, the demand for surgery among children in developing nations is strikingly high and the shortage of surgical care has extremely detrimental consequences.

In sub-Saharan health clinics, up to 11 percent of all child patients are in need of surgery. Of these children requiring surgery, nearly 90 percent are admitted with issues easily corrected by surgery such as congenital anomalies and injuries. Unfortunately, many children cannot obtain the surgical care they need. Even in urban communities with more convenient access to healthcare, approximately 217 out of 100,000 people die due to injuries, which could be corrected via surgery. By the age of 15, there is an 85 percent chance that children in Sub-Saharan Africa will experience a condition requiring surgery; without surgical attention, children can develop lifelong disabilities.

In impoverished countries that experience war and conflict, the chance of childhood injury is even higher. Children are often injured by stray bullets and explosives, and are even sometimes coerced into fighting. The Central African Republic experienced many child casualties during its most recent conflict (2012-2014), which put significant strain on its subpar healthcare system.

Even prior to the conflict, the Central African Republic had the sixth highest mortality rate of children under the age of five. Bangui Pediatric Hospital was overwhelmed by the influx of child patients during the war, but the U.N. supplied surgical kits and other medical supplies to temporarily rectify the void of surgical care.

Many other aid organizations are working to make pediatric surgical care more accessible in the developing world. The Global Pediatric Surgery Network has volunteer surgeons at work in various parts of the world, including Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Pacific Association of Pediatric Surgeons teaches surgical skills to general practitioners in impoverished countries in order to create more permanent solutions to the inadequacy of pediatric surgery in the developing world.

The most common issues faced by volunteer pediatric surgeons in developing countries are financial constraints, inadequate healthcare facilities, insufficient infrastructure and geographically isolated populations. Fixing these problems is tantamount to improving surgical care for children in the developing world. Correcting surgical conditions in childhood increases a person’s quality of life, which strongly illustrates how surgery is such a necessary component of a complete healthcare system.

– Mary Efird

Photo: Flickr