Safe surgery: Saving mothers’ lives

Asha Varghese, Director of Global Health at GE Foundation, Erin Barringer, Partner at Dalberg Advisors, and Renae Stafford, Program Director of Academic and Clinical Services at Touch Foundation, write for Global Daily.

For Prisca, a woman from Kome Island in Lake Victoria, Tanzania some 100 kilometers from the district hospital, going into labor with her seventh pregnancy was scary. Her previous pregnancy resulted in an emergency caesarian section at a facility not well equipped to handle this surgery, and the loss of the baby.

At this point, if Prisca were giving birth at home, her baby’s and her own prospects for survival would not be good. Both of their lives would also be in danger at most of Tanzania’s public health facilities, the majority of which are unable to perform emergency caesarean sections. In fact, just 51% of government hospitals are ready to perform surgery of any kind. The average patient in Tanzania lives 74 miles from a facility that can provide surgery; given the state of transportation infrastructure, this often means at least six hours travel time, as well as a significant cost for rural patients.

This is not just a Tanzanian problem; it’s a global one. Today, the majority of the world’s population—five billion people—lack access to safe, timely surgery. Over 95% of people in South Asia and Africa cannot access the surgical care they need.

When it comes to maternal and infant mortality, in particular, the lack of access to safe surgery is a crisis. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 pinpoints the urgent need to drastically reduce global maternal and neonatal mortality – and obstructed labor like Prisca’s is one of the most common causes of maternal death, responsible for almost one in ten maternal deaths in developing countries. Approximately 15% of all births are complicated by a potentially fatal condition that requires emergency care. Today, maternal mortality in Tanzania is 556 deaths per 100,000 live births. To reach the SDG target of 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births globally by 2030, it is clear new approaches are needed.