Global and regional overview of the inclusion of paediatric surgery in the national health plans of 124 countries: an ecological study

BMJ Open. 2021 Jun 16;11(6):e045981. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-045981.


OBJECTIVE: This study evaluates the priority given to surgical care for children within national health policies, strategies and plans (NHPSPs).

PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: We reviewed the NHPSPs available in the WHO’s Country Planning Cycle Database. Countries with NHPSPs in languages different from English, Spanish, French or Chinese were excluded. A total of 124 countries met the inclusion criteria.

PRIMARY AND SECONDARY OUTCOME MEASURES: We searched for child-specific and surgery-specific terms in the NHPSPs’ missions, goals and strategies using three analytic approaches: (1) count of the total number of mentions, (2) count of the number of policies with no mentions and (3) count of the number of policies with five or more mentions. Outcomes were compared across WHO regional and World Bank income-level classifications.

RESULTS: We found that the most frequently mentioned terms were ‘child*’, ‘infant*’ and ‘immuniz*’. The most frequently mentioned surgery term was ‘surg*’. Overall, 45% of NHPSPs discussed surgery and 7% discussed children’s surgery. The majority (93%) of countries did not mention selected essential and cost-effective children’s procedures. When stratified by WHO region and World Bank income level, the West Pacific region led the inclusion of ‘pediatric surgery’ in national health plans, with 17% of its countries mentioning this term. Likewise, low-income countries led the inclusion of surg* and ‘pediatric surgery’, with 63% and 11% of countries mentioning these terms, respectively. In both stratifications, paediatric surgery only equated to less than 1% of the total terms.

CONCLUSION: The low prevalence of children’s surgical search terms in NHPSPs indicates that the influence of surgical care for this population remains low in the majority of countries. Increased awareness of children’s surgical needs in national health plans might constitute a critical step to scale up surgical system in these countries.

PMID:34135040 | DOI:10.1136/bmjopen-2020-045981