Surgical procedures for children in the public healthcare sector: a nationwide, facility-based study in Uganda

BMJ Open. 2021 Jul 13;11(7):e048540. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-048540.


Objective: This study investigated the surgical services for children at the highest levels of the public healthcare sector in Uganda. The aim was to determine volumes and types of procedure performed and the patients and the human resource involved.

Design: The study was a facility-based, record review.

Setting: The study was carried out at the National Referral Hospital, all 14 regional referral hospitals and 14 general hospitals in Uganda, representing the highest levels of hospital in the public healthcare sector.

Participants: The subjects were children <18 years who underwent major surgery in the study hospitals during 2013 and 2014.

Results: The study hospitals contribute with an average annual rate of paediatric surgery at 22.0 per 100 000 paediatric population. This is a fraction of the estimated need. Most of the procedures were performed for congenital anomalies (n=3111, 39.4%), inflammation and infection (n=2264, 28.7%) and trauma (n=1210, 15.3%). Specialist surgeons performed 60.3% (n=4758) of the procedures, and anaesthesia was administered by specialist physician anaesthetists in 11.6% (n=917) of the cases.

Conclusions: A variety of paediatric surgical procedures are performed in a relatively decentralised system throughout Uganda. Task shifting and task sharing of surgery and anaesthesia are widespread: a large proportion of surgical procedures was carried out by non-specialist physicians, with anaesthesia mostly delivered by non-physician anaesthetists. Reinforcing the capacity and promoting the expansion of the health facilities studied, in particular the general hospitals and regional referral hospitals, could help reduce the immense unmet need for surgical services for children in Uganda.

Keywords: paediatric surgery; public health; surgery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Health Care Sector*
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Public Sector
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative*
  • Uganda / epidemiology