Study reveals patients in Africa are twice likely to die after an operation

A new study shows patients in Africa are fighting against becoming statistics of the high mortality rate.

The study which was done by researchers at the University of Cape Town covered 25 countries and revealed that over 18% of in-patients developed complications following surgery. Also, it showed that 1% of elective in-patients died in hospital within 30 days of their operation and only a minority of deaths occurred on the day of the operation itself.

The data for the research was collected from 11,422 adult patients at 247 hospitals spread over 25 countries including Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria, and Zambia. In order to assess patient outcomes, data was collected from hospitals about patients after their surgical procedures which required an overnight stay between February and May 2016.

Just over 18% of all patients developed complications, ranging from stroke to pneumonia, almost one in 10 of whom died and the researchers noted that, "It is likely that many of these deaths were preventable."


However, the study also revealed that the number of operations across the continent was very low and fewer than 43% of surgeries in Africa were elective, with the majority of patients instead undergoing urgent or emergency operations. Meanwhile, cesarean deliveries accounted for 33% of surgeries across Africa which is a remarkably high proportion.

What are the major factors responsible for these patients deaths?

Professor Bruce Biccard, who is a co-author of the study, said that "The reason that people do so terribly in Africa from a surgical point of view is that there are just no human resources"  which causes difficulties in spotting or tackling complications following operations which results in a high mortality rate.

Based on the findings of the research, the data is a reflection of a scanty workforce and limited numbers of hospital beds. Also, poor systems to check up on patients following surgery, as there are only about 0.7 specialist surgeons, obstetricians, and anaesthesiologists per 100,000 population. The recommended figure to decrease the risk of death following surgery is 20–40 such specialists per 100,000 population.


Biccard said that "There is no way we are going to be able to train enough physicians to fill this deficit in human resources." He suggested that systems for focusing care on high-risk patients need to be developed, or non-physicians would need to be helped to identify patients who might be at risk.

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