Background: In the last decade surgical care has been propelled into the public health domain with the establishment of a World Health Organisation (WHO) designated programme and key publications. The passing of the historic World Health Assembly Resolution (WHA) acknowledged surgical care as a vital component towards achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC). We conducted the first worldwide survey to explore the perception of surgical care as a public health issue.

Method: The anonymous, cross sectional survey targeted worldwide participants across a range of professional backgrounds, including non-medical using virtual snowball sampling method (in English) using Google Forms (Google Inc., Mountain View, CA, USA) from 20th February 2019 to 25th June 2019. The survey questions were designed to gauge awareness on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UHC, WHO programmes and key publications on surgical care as well as perception of surgical care as a priority topic in public health.

Results: The survey was completed by 1954 respondents from 118 countries. Respondents were least aware of surgical care as a teaching topic in public health courses (27%; n = 526) and as a WHO programme (20%; n = 384). 82% of respondents were aware of UHC (n = 1599) and of this 72% (n = 1152) agreed that surgical care fits within UHC. While 77% (n = 1495) of respondents were aware of SDGs, only 19% (n = 370) agreed that surgery was a priority to meet SDGs. 48% (n = 941) rated surgical care as a cost-effective component of Primary Health Care. 88% (n = 1712) respondents had not read the WHA Resolution on ‘Strengthening emergency and essential surgical care and anaesthesia as a component of UHC’.

Conclusion: There is still a widespread gap in awareness on the importance of surgical care as a public health issue amongst our respondents. Surgical care was not seen as a priority to reach the SDGs, less visible as a WHO programme and not perceived as an important topic for public health courses.

COMMENT (NPW): This survey was conducted before the current pandemic, but the ‘widespread gap in awareness on the importance of surgical care as a public health issue’ is certain to have had an impact on the provision of essential surgery services during the pandemic. Have such services been underprioritised by governments at this time? What can be done to maintain national and local support for surgery services?…more