Background: The Lancet recently sponsored a commission examining the role of surgery in global health. There is a paucity of published information on the cost-effectiveness of surgery in low- and middle-income countries, a key metric in the prioritisation of limited resources.
Methods: All patients undergoing emergency laparotomy, elective and emergency inguinal hernia repair, elective and emergency caesarean section, amputation, fracture manipulation, or fracture fixation over a 3 months period in a single district African hospital were assessed. World Health Organisation global burden of disease (GBD) methodology was used to calculate the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) saved for each patient (using global and local life expectancy). Fully loaded costs were calculated for each patient’s care and providing the overall surgical service. Cost-effectiveness was calculated in year 2012 US$ per DALY saved for each procedure and overall.
Results: A total of 428 patients were included, with an overall cost-effectiveness of $10.70 per DALY averted. The cost-effectiveness of individual procedures (global life expectancy) was: Amputation—$17.66; Emergency caesarean section—$7.42; Elective caesarean section—$20.50; Emergency laparotomy—$8.62; Elective hernia repair—$15.26; Emergency hernia repair—$4.36; Fracture/dislocation reduction—$69.03; Fracture/dislocation fixation—$225.89.
Conclusions: Surgery is a highly cost-effective healthcare measure in the setting of an African district hospital. The presented outcomes demonstrate that surgery is on a par with better-recognised and funded interventions such as HIV anti-retrovirals, malaria prevention and diarrhoea treatment. There are recognised limitations with the GBD methodology used here; however, this remains the best way to investigate the cost-effectiveness of health interventions. This study provides useful information on an, at present, under-studied field.