The lack of access to safe surgery worldwide may not generate a lot of headlines, but more than four times as many people die from conditions needing surgery than the number who are killed by HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria combined.
Dr. John Meara is on a mission to change this. As one of three chairs of the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery, Meara is working with a group of surgeons and public health experts to address the uneven access to surgical care and inconsistent quality around the world. This spring, more than a year after officially launching, the commission published a 32,000-word report laying out concrete strategies to improve access to safe surgery in low- and middle-income countries.
“We found that 5 billion people in the world don’t have access to surgery,” says Meara in a video interview during the recent GE Developing Health Summit, which brought together the GE Foundation’s partners in global health. “They don’t have the type of access that you or I would have. So, it’s not timely, it’s not safe, it’s not affordable.”
A properly developed surgical platform can add an extra year of life for about $33 per year. The key is to ensure surgery is integrated into the overall healthcare system, says Meara, the Kletjian Professor of Global Surgery at Harvard Medical School. In addition to his roles as director of the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Department of Plastic & Oral Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital, he also trains new leaders in surgical care as co-director of the Paul Farmer Global Surgery Fellowship program.
“We’re moving into an era where health system strengthening is going to be much more important, and we saw this in the wake of the Ebola crisis — where an absence of proper healthcare systems led to really a furtherance of that problem,” says Meara in the interview: