Greg Nichols


The Most Extraordinary, Ordinary Medical Procedure

An everyday treatment for common ailments saves millions of lives each year, thanks to global health experts and volunteers

Though conditions such as hernias or bone fractures may not capture the imagination quite the way deadly outbreaks do, more people die each year from lack of surgical intervention than from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. Yet only 6.3 percent of the 312.9 million annual surgical procedures go to the poorest third of the global population. One obstacle may be lack of funds—it would take an estimated $350 billion to train personnel and build up the necessary capacity to bring fast care to even 80 percent of those who need it. But that’s a steal: Lost economic output due to surgically treatable conditions will cost $12.3 trillion by 2030. An even bigger problem has been lack of sustained international interest.

Fortunately, surgery is starting to emerge from the periphery of global health, as a number of specialized organizations are bringing doctors and surgical infrastructure to the developing world. Find out which standard procedures have big impact below.

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