Social Innovation in Surgery: How New Systems are Saving Lives

Asha Varghese explains that surgical teams in resource scarce settings must be supported to innovate in their methods, relationships and systems in order to improve surgical outcomes. 

Read the full article on Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Augmented reality tools training surgeons. 3D printers creating new body parts and organs. Drones delivering supplies. A Google search for “innovations in surgery” will show you the extraordinary potential of technology to transform surgical care.

But for Amsalu Tiruneh, a non-physician surgeon (otherwise known as an Integrated Emergency Surgical Officer, IESO for short) operating in a rural hospital in Ethiopia, these innovations feel like a world away from his reality.

Amsalu has worked at Dangila Hospital for over two years. He has become used to working with an inconsistent oxygen supply, a limited workforce, and a high rate of post-surgical infections without easy-to-identify causes.

On a daily basis, surgery can be delayed while they wait for an anesthetist to travel across from a neighboring hospital. Amsalu has to overcome electricity outages or an interrupted water supply to perform even the most basic of surgeries. These challenges are unthinkable for surgeons operating in state of the art facilities in New York, London or Berlin.

Rather than groundbreaking tech, Amsalu needs basic infrastructure and more well-trained colleagues to operate safely on his patients. Yet innovation is as integral to providing safe and timely surgical care to the community of Dangla, as it is to the next tech revolution.

In operating theatres in low resource hospitals across Africa, innovation often takes on a different meaning to Silicon Valley’s tech first approach. It means creating processes and sustainable models that improve the quality of surgery within the confines of their resources.

Innovation for Amsalu means finding ways to safely transport critically ill patients to local referral hospitals. It means supporting new training programs that can rapidly train surgical and anesthesiaproviders, and creating processes that the whole surgical team will follow day in, day out.

Amsalu was part of a Safe Surgery 2020 leadership training program in Ethiopia, a partnership funded by GE Foundation that brings together innovations, global expertise and local experience to make surgical care safe and accessible for all. The leadership program took a new approach by training the whole surgical team together – from the nurse to the anesthetist to the IESO.

Read the full article on Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ashley Eberhart