The Development and Inclusion of Questions on Surgery in the 2018 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey

Glob Health Sci Pract. 2021 Dec 21;9(4):905-914. doi: 10.9745/GHSP-D-20-00619. Print 2021 Dec 31.


Background: While primary data on the unmet need for surgery in low- and middle-income countries is lacking, household surveys could provide an entry point to collect such data. We describe the first development and inclusion of questions on surgery in a nationally representative Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) in Zambia.

Method: Questions regarding surgical conditions were developed through an iterative consultative process and integrated into the rollout of the DHS survey in Zambia in 2018 and administered to a nationwide sample survey of eligible women aged 15-49 years and men aged 15-59 years.

Results: In total, 7 questions covering 4 themes of service delivery, diagnosed burden of surgical disease, access to care, and quality of care were added. The questions were administered across 12,831 households (13,683 women aged 15-49 years and 12,132 men aged 15-59 years). Results showed that approximately 5% of women and 2% of men had undergone an operation in the past 5 years. Among women, cesarean delivery was the most common surgery; circumcision was the most common procedure among men. In the past 5 years, an estimated 0.61% of the population had been told by a health care worker that they might need surgery, and of this group, 35% had undergone the relevant procedure.

Conclusion: For the first time, questions on surgery have been included in a nationwide DHS. We have shown that it is feasible to integrate these questions into a large-scale survey to provide insight into surgical needs at a national level. Based on the DHS design and implementation mechanisms, a country interested in including a set of questions like the one included in Zambia, could replicate this data collection in other settings, which provides an opportunity for systematic collection of comparable surgical data, a vital role in surgical health care system strengthening.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult
  • Zambia