Why We Should All Be Advocates for Global Health: Reimagining “Global Surgery”
By Kerigo Odada, Lawyer and PhD researcher at the University of Pretoria, Centre for Human Rights
For many of us, the phrase “global surgery” automatically makes us think of the traditional approach to medical practice that is confined to medical service providers.
However, over the past few months, I have been introduced to global surgery through an intersectional lens that underscores the need for a multidisciplinary approach to the field. Courtesy of individuals like Desmond Jumbam, Ruben Ayala, Barnabas Alayande, Vera Kum, Jean Cédric Kouam, Irene Dzirasa, Serena Cruz and others, I’ve come to appreciate that global surgery is about all of us. We all have a role to play in ensuring access to timely, quality and affordable surgical care for all and must therefore support advocacy efforts for the same.
Global surgery is a field that has emerged as a critical area of focus in global health, given the burden of surgical disease in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Unfortunately, despite the growing recognition of the importance of surgical care, significant gaps in access to safe, timely and affordable surgical services remain.
Access to surgical care is still limited, with an estimated five billion people worldwide lacking essential surgical services.
Cognizant of this urgent need to integrate advocacy in surgical, obstetric, trauma and anesthesia (SOTA), Operation Smile, in partnership with Nkafu Policy Institute and the University of Global Health Equity, has established the Global Surgery Advocacy Fellowship (GSAF).
The GSAF is a year-long, non-residential fellowship program that aims to provide intensive advocacy and policy education to global surgery leaders in LMICs to improve access to safe surgical and anesthesia care in their communities.
The fellowship aims to identify global SOTA advocates based in LMICs to empower them and provide them with the skills and resources they need to be champions and advocates for SOTA.
With support from their mentors and the GSAF team, the fellows will build the skills needed to be champions and advocates for quality SOTA care in their communities globally and contribute to ensuring that local and global decision-makers prioritize SOTA. Moreover, this fellowship will create a network of skilled, well-informed and confident global surgery advocates. Advocates who, upon completion of the program, will join the GSAF community where they’ll continue advancing the field and helping develop the next cohort of fellows.
Integrating advocacy into global surgery is essential to improving access to surgical care, addressing health disparities and promoting social justice.
By ensuring that all individuals have access to essential surgical services, we can help reduce suffering, improve health outcomes and promote a more equitable and just world.
Advocacy builds partnerships between organizations, thereby promoting collaboration and knowledge-sharing to advance the field. It creates opportunities to work closely with local communities to understand their health care needs, priorities and challenges. This eventually helps in designing and implementing surgical interventions that are culturally appropriate, accessible and sustainable.
As one of the mentors in this program together with Aditi Lalbahadur, Camilo Arenas, Stephanie Musho, and Lalatiana Andriamanarivo, it gives me great pleasure to be part of this movement toward reimagining our approach to global health.
This fellowship is essential if we are to achieve global health equity. Having gone through the one-week intense training workshop, I believe there is a lot that we stand to gain by using such innovative ways to achieve global health justice.
The fellows Simon Pierre from Rwanda, Carolina Franco from Colombia, Fleur Rahatasoa from Madagascar, Abdo Husen from Ethiopia and Patrick Maison from Ghana all have GSAF projects that will go a long way in promoting a more just and equitable health system in each of their communities.
Speaking as someone with a background in law but specializing in the intersection between law and medical practice, the opportunity to work with my mentee Simon Pierre, a medical doctor with extensive experience in gynecology and obstetrics, has been very enlightening. This is particularly so because both of us are working on respectful maternity care but from different lenses, medicine and law. It is this unique nature of the program that makes me believe that the future of global health lies in moving the conversation beyond the confines of traditional medical practice.
The need for integrating advocacy into global surgery can’t be overstated.
Advocacy is critical in advancing the field of global surgery and improving access to surgical care in LMICs and other resource-limited settings. By engaging with stakeholders, building coalitions, raising awareness, supporting research and working closely with local communities, we can help achieve a world where all individuals have access to safe, timely and affordable surgical care.
Kerigo Odada, Lawyer and PhD researcher at the University of Pretoria, Centre for Human Rights