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Improving global access to surgical care cannot be a casualty of the pandemic

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A new Institute of Global Surgery has been launched by RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences to lead global efforts to ensure equity for patients in need of surgical care.

Building on extensive experience in surgical training, education and research partnerships in Africa, the RCSI Institute of Global Surgery works with local partners to develop sustainable surgical care systems in low and middle-income countries. The Institute has a dual focus: capacity building to alleviate the surgical burden in targeted international locations and generating high-impact research to inform future growth.

With five billion people lacking access to safe, affordable and timely surgical and anesthetic care, particularly in low and middle-income countries, the new Institute will be a leader in the response to this global crisis in surgical care. 

Annually, an estimated 140 million people need surgical procedures to save their lives or to prevent long-term disability but cannot get them, and 80 million more, who do seek care, are impoverished as a result. Professor Mark Shrime, O’Brien Chair of Global Surgery and head of the new Institute, warns that this situation could worsen as a result of the global pandemic, with increased pressures on already under-resourced local health services in developing countries.

He said: “Surgical conditions account for up to 30% of the global disease burden. Greater equity in the provision of surgical care will only come about if it becomes a political priority. The great risk now is that surgery becomes a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must find a way to address the surgical care crisis in parallel with responding to the pandemic; otherwise many surgical patients will be shut out of the care they need.”

The Institute will also be a vocal advocate for patients in need of surgical care; representing partner organisations on a global scale and engaging with policymakers to ensure that its research is influencing national planning and policy.

Professor Shrime, who was a co-author on the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery, added: “With patients at the centre of our mission, and building on evidence of what works sustainably, the RCSI Institute of Global Surgery will continue to collaborate with our partners in Africa and will develop new global partnerships to bring better quality, more timely, and more affordable surgical care to patients worldwide.” 

Professor Cathal Kelly, RCSI CEO, said: “The RCSI Institute of Global Surgery reflects our commitment to global health and well-being. It will leverage our heritage in surgical education and research to highlight the global surgical care crisis and work for equity for those who need surgical care but cannot access it. I wish Professor Shrime and his colleagues every success with this most vital work. Success in their mission will see improved health outcomes across the globe, a goal which reflects our university’s ambition of leading the world to better health.”

The RCSI Institute of Global Surgery was formally launched at a webinar on Friday 12 March. The keynote address was given by Dr Gary Parker, CMO, Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships. The launch webinar marked the first annual Dublin Meeting in Global Surgery. The next meeting will take place on 21 March 2022, in Dublin, Ireland.