'Extreme Affordability:' U of U Center for Global Surgery International Conference Aims To Spur Innovations that Make Lifesaving Operations Accessible to Billions of People

'Extreme Affordability:' U of U Center for Global Surgery International Conference Aims To Spur Innovations that Make Lifesaving Operations Accessible to Billions of People

Mar 14, 2012 1:22 PM

NOTE: watch Dr. Catherine R. deVries explain the conference and need for global surgery via YouTube

(SALT LAKE CITY)—On March 22-23, surgeons, physicians, nurses, engineers, scientists, and financial experts from around the world will gather in Salt Lake City for the University of Utah Center for Global Surgery’s “Extreme Affordability” conference.

The 150 expected conference attendees all have the same goal: to focus on innovations that improve quality of surgical care and make it radically more accessible to the 90 percent of the world’s population that can’t get surgery when they need it. Catherine R. deVries, M.D., professor of urologic surgery at the U of U School of Medicine and director of the Center for Global Surgery, says for undeveloped nations and underserved areas to gain access to affordable and sustainable surgery it will require a multidisciplinary effort that goes beyond surgeons donating their time and skills to perform operations.

“Surgery is an individual ‘ecosystem’ that has its own infrastructure, personnel needs, and processes that are different from other areas of medicine,” deVries says. “Surgery must be looked at in a holistic sense, from the business, engineering, medical, legal, economic, and policy points of view.”

To that end the conference will examine topics that include:

  • Innovations for extreme affordability in surgical care
  • Essential surgery needs in undeveloped and resource-poor areas
  • Bioengineering for extreme affordability in surgery
  • Entrepreneurship and global health
  • Programs that work: from the Himalayas to Africa and from Mongolia to Utah
  • Measuring costs

 Africa, a continent of more than 1 billion people and widespread, crushing poverty, illustrates the problems that leave billions of people without access to lifesaving surgery.

More than one in five deaths in Africa occur from surgically preventable causes—trauma, cancer and other diseases, and maternal cause, say two surgeons who’ve worked in Africa for many years and are scheduled to speak at the conference—Adam Kushner, M.D., founder of Surgeons OverSeas, and his wife Reinou Groen, M.D., who specializes in emergency obstetrical care and works with Surgeons OverSeas and Doctors without Borders. But the basic infrastructure for providing surgery to save lives is nonexistent in most of that continent: There are few hospitals, surgical centers, and private medical practices; no supply chain exists to keep them operating; the critical administrative and business expertise to run those facilities is missing; and there aren’t enough health care professional to care for patients.

 “Training just the surgeons needed for Africa would take hundreds of years,” deVries says. “It’s up to surgeons, nurses, and doctors of other specialties, as well as the wider community, to find the ways to make surgery affordable for the many people who can benefit from those interventions.”

The Global Surgery Conference will feature experts speaking about topics ranging from developing business climates to promote private medical practices to making laparoscopic surgery accessible in far-flung regions to finding innovative ways to finance the infrastructure needed to establish surgical capabilities in undeveloped areas. Developed countries have the experience and know-how to help undeveloped areas construct the systems and grow the expertise to provide much-needed surgical services, according to deVries.

“Through this conference we want to take advantage of the very deep base of knowledge available in Utah and other states and countries to help undeveloped areas build the ecosystems to offer affordable and sustainable surgery to all who need it,” she says.

Conference presenters include:

Fiemu Nwariaku, a general surgeon from Africa, now at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who has spent many years in Africa and specializes in minimally invasive endocrine (glandular) surgery. He has explored the role of private practice and entrepreneurship in building health care economies by developing laparoscopy and other minimally invasive surgery.

Pauline Wiessner, a U of U anthropologist who has worked with the Bushmen of the Kalahari and the Enga of Papua, New Guinea, to look at medicine and technology through the eyes of indigenous people. She has looked at how surgery has the ability to transform acceptance of basic health care by building trust in a community.

Adam Kushner, a Columbia University surgeon, who also has spent many years in Africa, most recently in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, and says more than one in five deaths in Africa occurs because of issues preventable by surgery—trauma, maternal causes, cancer, and other problems.

Bill Schechter, a surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco, who founded Operation Access, which is dedicated to providing surgical care for uninsured patients in the Bay Area. His approach provides a new model of community surgical care for the poor and he’s interested in how illness and surgical problems create and maintain poverty and how appropriate surgical care.

Ray Price, general surgeon at Intermountain Healthcare who has worked in many countries and has been the leader in training minimally invasive general surgery for the entire country of Mongolia.  His work has demonstrated how higher technology can be both affordable and transformative in a poor and largely nomadic population.

Catherine deVries, professor of urologic surgery the University of Utah, directs the U Center for Global Surgery and is leading the conference.

# # #

Media Contacts

Phil Sahm
Science Writer , Office of Public Affairs
Phone: 801-581-2517
Email: phil.sahm@hsc.utah.edu

Visit our News Archive for a complete list of previous News.