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Surgical need in an aging population: A cluster-based household survey in Nepal

      Background

      With an aging global population comes an obligate and substantial burden of noncommunicable disease, especially in low- and middle-income countries. An unknown proportion of this burden is treatable with surgical expertise. For health system planning, this study aimed to estimate the operative needs of individuals older than 50 of age years in Nepal.

      Methods

      A 2-stage, cluster randomized, community-based survey was performed in Nepal using the validated Surgeons OverSeas Surgical Assessment Survey (SOSAS). SOSAS collects household demographics and selects household members randomly for verbal, head-to-toe examinations for surgical conditions; moreover, SOSAS also completes a verbal autopsy for deaths in the preceding year. Only respondents older than 50 years were included in the analysis.

      Results

      The survey sampled 1,350 households, totaling 2,695 individuals (97% response rate). Of these, 273 surgical conditions were reported by 507 persons ages ≥50 years. Extrapolating, there are potentially 2.1 million people older than 50 years of age with surgically treatable conditions who need care in Nepal (95% confidence interval 1.8–2.4 million; 46,000–62,600 per 100,000 persons). One in 5 deaths was potentially treatable or palliated by surgical care. Although growths or masses (including hernias and goiters) were the surgical condition reported most commonly (25%), injuries and fractures also were common and associated with the greatest disability. Literacy and distance to secondary and tertiary health facilities were associated with lack of care for operative conditions (P < .05).

      Conclusion

      There is a large, unmet surgical need among the elderly in Nepal. Low literacy and distance from a capable health facility are the greatest barriers to care. As the global population ages, there is an increasing need to improve surgical services and strengthen health systems to care for this group.
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