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World J Surg. 2015 Apr;39(4):822-32. doi: 10.1007/s00268-014-2937-9.

Essential surgery: the way forward.

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International Collaboration for Essential Surgery (ICES), New York, USA.



Very little surgical care is performed in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). An estimated two billion people in the world have no access to essential surgical care, and non-surgeons perform much of the surgery in remote and rural areas. Surgical care is as yet not recognized as an integral aspect of primary health care despite its self-demonstrated cost-effectiveness. We aimed to define the parameters of a public health approach to provide surgical care to areas in most need.


Consensus meetings were held, field experience was collected via targeted interviews, and a literature review on the current state of essential surgical care provision in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was conducted. Comparisons were made across international recommendations for essential surgical interventions and a consensus-driven list was drawn up according to their relative simplicity, resource requirement, and capacity to provide the highest impact in terms of averted mortality or disability.


Essential Surgery consists of basic, low-cost surgical interventions, which save lives and prevent life-long disability or life-threatening complications and may be offered in any district hospital. Fifteen essential surgical interventions were deduced from various recommendations from international surgical bodies. Training in the realm of Essential Surgery is narrow and strict enough to be possible for non-physician clinicians (NPCs). This cadre is already active in many SSA countries in providing the bulk of surgical care.


A basic package of essential surgical care interventions is imperative to provide structure for scaling up training and building essential health services in remote and rural areas of LMICs. NPCs, a health cadre predominant in SSA, require training, mentoring, and monitoring. The cost of such training is vastly more efficient than the expensive training of a few polyvalent or specialist surgeons, who will not be sufficient in numbers within the next few generations. Moreover, these practitioners are used to working in the districts and are much less prone to gravitate elsewhere. The use of these NPCs performing "Essential Surgery" is a feasible route to deal with the almost total lack of primary surgical care in LMICs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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