Overcoming Barriers to Accessing Surgery and Rehabilitation in Low and Middle-Income Countries: An Innovative Model of Patient Navigation in Nepal

World J Surg. 2021 Aug;45(8):2347-2356. doi: 10.1007/s00268-021-06035-1. Epub 2021 Apr 23.


Background: Injury and disability are prominent public health concerns, globally and in the country of Nepal. Lack of locally available medical infrastructure, socioeconomic barriers, social marginalization, poor health literacy, and cultural barriers prevent patients from accessing surgical and rehabilitative care. Overcoming these barriers is an insurmountable challenge for the most vulnerable and marginalized, resulting in absence of treatment or even death.

Methods: Sundar Dhoka Saathi Sewa (SDSS), a non-government organization, provides a patient navigation service which facilitates referrals to tertiary centers from Nepal's most remote areas. Specific criteria ensure that patient referrals are appropriate in regard to clinical and socioeconomic need, while comprehensive counselling helps guide the patient and family. The SDSS staff meet patients upon arrival in Kathmandu and facilitate admission to the appropriate tertiary hospital. They advocate for the patient, provide medicine, supply food and cover all treatment costs.

Results: This project has enabled access to treatment for more than 1200 children for conditions leading to long-term disability and/or congenital heart disease. Interventions include a wide range of surgical and rehabilitative procedures such as complex orthopedics, cleft lip and palate, congenital talipes equinovarus, burn contractures, neurological cases, and cardiac surgery for valvular disease, septal defects and other congenital malformations.

Discussion: The SDSS model of patient navigation is effective in overcoming the barriers to access surgical care and rehabilitation in Nepal. The success is owed to committed international donors, capacity building, effective counselling, advocacy, compassion, and community. We believe that this model could be replicated in other LMICs.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cleft Lip*
  • Cleft Palate*
  • Developing Countries
  • Humans
  • Nepal
  • Patient Navigation*