Background: Although great efforts are being undertaken to reduce child morbidity and mortality globally, there is limited knowledge about the need for pediatric surgical care. Some data on surgical need is available from hospital registries, but it is difficult to interpret for countries with limited surgical capacity.
Methods: A cross-sectional two-stage cluster-based sample survey was undertaken in Sierra Leone, using the Surgeons OverSeas Assessment of Surgical Need tool. Data were collected and analyzed on numbers of children needing surgical care and pediatric deaths that may have been averted if surgical care had been available.
Results: A total of 1,583 children out of 3,645 individuals (43.3 %) were interviewed. Most (64.0 %, n = 1,013) participants lived in rural areas. At the time of interview, 279 (17.6; 95 % confidence interval (95 % CI): 15.7-19.5 %) had a possible surgical condition in need of a consultation. Children in the northern and eastern provinces of Sierra Leone were much more likely to report a surgical problem than those in the urban-west.
Conclusions: There is a high need for surgical care in the pediatric population of Sierra Leone. While additional resources should be allocated to address that need, more research is needed. Ideally, questions on surgically treatable conditions should be added to the frequently performed health care surveys on the pediatric population.