Potentially Avertable Child Mortality Associated with Surgical Workforce Scale-up in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Global Study

World J Surg. 2021 Sep;45(9):2643-2652. doi: 10.1007/s00268-021-06181-6. Epub 2021 Jun 10.


Background: Expansion of access to surgical care can improve health outcomes, although the impact that scale-up of the surgical workforce will have on child mortality is poorly defined. In this study, we estimate the number of child deaths potentially avertable by increasing the surgical workforce globally to meet targets proposed by the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery.

Methods: To estimate the number of deaths potentially avertable through increases in the surgical workforce, we used log-linear regression to model the association between surgeon, anesthetist and obstetrician workforce (SAO) density and surgically amenable under-5 mortality rate (U5MR), infant mortality rate (IMR), and neonatal mortality rate (NMR) for 192 countries adjusting for potential confounders of childhood mortality, including the non-surgical workforce (physicians, nurses/midwives, community health workers), gross national income per capita, poverty rate, female literacy rate, health expenditure per capita, percentage of urban population, number of surgical operations, and hospital bed density. Surgically amenable mortality was determined using mortality estimates from the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation adjusted by the proportion of deaths in each country due to communicable causes unlikely to be amenable to surgical care. Estimates of mortality reduction due to upscaling surgical care to support the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery (LCoGS) minimum target of 20-40 SAO/100,000 were calculated accounting for potential increases in surgical volume associated with surgical workforce expansion.

Results: Increasing SAO workforce density was independently associated with lower surgically amenable U5MR as well as NMR (p < 0.01 for each model). When accounting for concomitant increases in surgical volume, scale-up of the surgical workforce to 20-40 SAO/100,000 could potentially prevent between 262,709 (95% CI 229,643-295,434) and 519,629 (465,046-573,919) under 5 deaths annually. The majority (61%) of deaths averted would be neonatal deaths.

Conclusion: Scale up of surgical workforce may substantially decrease childhood mortality rates around the world. Our analysis suggests that scale-up of surgical delivery through increase in the SAO workforce could prevent over 500,000 children from dying before the age of 5 annually. This would represent significant progress toward meeting global child mortality reduction targets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Mortality*
  • Developing Countries*
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Mortality
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Workforce