Tanzania proposes increasing access to essential surgery as a sustainable development goal post-2015

The International Community Calls for a “Right to Heal” to improve child and maternal health, to save lives and for Essential Surgery to become a health priority for the global agenda for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goal. “Surgical interventions play a major role in helping to prevent death and chronic disability. Despite this fact, surgical interventions are not accessible by everyone.”

On February 6, 2014, the International Collaboration for Essential Surgery (ICES) hosted its first UN Side Event in conjunction with the 8th and final Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (post-2015). This official UN event focused on how women and children are unnecessarily suffering from health issues easily remedied by essential surgery.

The event also included a special screening of the Right To Heal.

The lack of essential surgery is a worldwide problem that is often hidden from view and is impacting the ability of women and children to fully participate in their economies and communities.  Two out of every seven people on the planet lack access to basic surgical care, and most live in low- and middle-income countries. Women in developing countries who survive obstructed births are often disabled and injured due to obstetric fistula and infection- conditions that damage the reproductive tract and structures near the birth canal, causing incontinence and pain.  These women are abandoned, outcast by society and denied their fundamental rights to health and wellness. Children who are born with severe disabilities are robbed of their potential in infancy. By increasing access to the most essential surgeries, these issues can be addressed. By ensuring their “right to heal,” these women and children will be empowered to reach their full potential as productive and equal members of society.

Without a focus on essential surgery, the crisis is one of access and priority. Speaker after speaker emphasized how women are dying and suffering from conditions associated with obstructed labor and pregnancy.  Speakers at the event included:

Ms. Anita Sharma, Senior Director, Millennium Development Goals Initiatives, Every Woman, Every Child, UN Foundation welcomed the group and reiterated UNF’s commitment to women and children. She linked the need for essential surgery to the global movement to improve the health of women and children around the world and spoke of the importance of meetings such as the side event that unite leaders from government, the private sector and civil society in prioritizing women's health.

Ms. Ellen Maduhu- Second Secretary of Social Humanitarian and Cultural Issues, Women, Children in Armed Conflict, Refugees, IDPs, a representative from the Tanzania Permanent Mission to the United Nations; set the tone for the UN-approved side event on the role of surgical access and women’s equity. She then made a proposal on behalf of the Tanzanian Government that essential surgery be included as a sustainable development goal in the post-2015 agenda within the framework of universal healthcare.

Official Statement from the Government of Tanzania

Maya Azucena -  Global Singer, Cultural Ambassador and human rights activist spoke on the right to hope and that no woman should ever be a burden, but allowed to achieve their truest potential.

Gillian Slinger – Campaign to End Fistula, United Nations Population Fund, spoke passionately about the public health crisis of fistula and the real dangers faced by women with fistulas during subsequent deliveries. She further emphasized that these women are the most marginalized people in society, denied of their basic right to live and work where they choose because of their condition.

ICES' cofounder, Jaymie Ang Henry, MD, MPH emphasized that half of the world is female and that neglected conditions treatable by surgery are becoming a leading cause of death globally. “It’s imperative that we take action to ensure that women and children have access to essential surgery.  Women and children are dying in childbirth and from other conditions because they don’t have access to the most basic surgeries like caesarean section- surgeries that can and do save lives during obstructed births.  I myself survived childbirth because I had access to essential surgery.  No woman should fear injury or death during childbirth.”

“Despite global achievements and our commitments, actions need to be taken beyond 2015 to ensure that women do not die while giving birth. Governments such as mine (Tanzania) despite our good intentions and commitments are very much constrained.  We still need the support from different stakeholders like the United Nations system, our development partners, the private sector and civil societies to look for an effective workable strategy beyond 2015 that will end preventable deaths among children and women.”  said Ms. Maduhu.

All speakers called for universal support for essential surgery as a global priority. Representatives from the governments of the USA (Health and Human Services, HHS), Tanzania and Belgium convened with a community of NGOs, academia, and corporate leaders working to address maternal mortality and to explore how to advance access to essential surgery to women and children. The HHS expressed their continuing support for surgical care at the World Health Assembly and outlined their efforts in drafting a resolution for surgical care and anaesthesia in collaboration with stakeholders across multiple sectors.

The event was hosted by the International Collaboration for Essential Surgery, International Federation of Surgical Colleges, and the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland with Johns Hopkins University as a collaborating partner. The UN Foundation provided the venue for the event.

Attendees include representatives from:

Operation Smile, Kupona Foundation, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, Smile Train, Lifebox, Gradian Health, Johnson and Johnson, Jhpiego