Emergency and essential surgical care

What is emergency and essential surgical care?

Emergency and essential surgical care covers those interventions that are critical for specific conditions in preventing premature death and disability. Our programme focuses on improving infrastructure and training that help provide simple, vital procedures that are safe, affordable and accessible.

Five billion people lack access to safe and affordable surgery

In 2015, The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery produced a report – Global Surgery 2030 – which outlines five key approaches for improving universal access to safe and affordable surgical and anaesthesia care. Review the report overview below and learn more about other key findings, too.

Misconceptions about global surgery

Surgical care needs to be recognized as an important and cost-effective intervention. Surgical care is often perceived as too expensive to implement, but is similarly cost-effective to currently implemented non-surgical routine interventions. The World Health Organization aims to advance the status of surgical care in global public health and coordinate plans to address the unfulfilled surgical burden.

Stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide

Stroke is the second leading cause of death and the third leading cause of disability in the world. The majority of strokes occur in low- and middle-income countries, where the incidence has doubled over the last four decades, while its incidence continues to decline in high-income countries. WHO is therefore developing guidelines for the management of acute stroke in low- and middle-income countries and aims to expand training programmes in stroke prevention, treatment and rehabilitation through its partners. Click on the bulletin below to learn more why global stroke intervention is so important.


What is global surgery?

Improving access to surgical care is essential, since surgery can successfully treat a wide variety of conditions, from cancer and injuries to obstructed labour. However, five billion people do not currently have access to safe, timely and affordable surgical care and anaesthesia worldwide. In low- and middle-income countries, 9 out of 10 people cannot access even the most basic surgical services. Through universal access to safe, timely and affordable surgery, we could save many lives, prevent disability and also promote economic growth as a result. WHO’s goal is to strengthen entire health systems to improve the delivery of surgical, obstetric and anaesthesia care, without the risk of financial ruin, to all people, everywhere.

Surgical care has been considered an essential component of health care worldwide for over a century. While surgical procedures are intended to save lives and prevent disability, unsafe procedures, due to inadequate infrastructure and equipment, or lack of adequately skilled personnel, can cause substantial harm. In 2008, the WHO Safe Surgery Saves Lives initiative was launched to raise awareness and mobilize political commitment to improve standards of patient safety in the surgical field specifically.

WHA resolution on surgical care

On 22 May 2015, the 68th World Health Assembly unanimously passed resolution 68.15 on strengthening emergency and essential surgical and anaesthesia care as a component of universal health coverage. This was a historic moment for WHO’s Emergency and Essential Surgical Care Programme, as well as other programmes actively involved in tackling the lack of global surgery, since it provided some much-needed impetus to efforts to improve the quality, accessibility and safety of surgical, obstetric and anaesthesia care at the global level.


Emergency and essential surgical care

Contact information

Emergency & Essential Surgical Care Programme
Service Delivery and Safety
Health Systems and Innovation
World Health Organization
Avenue Appia 20
1211 Geneva 27
Switzerland

For feedback or other enquiries please contact us at surgery@who.int.