Three surgeons in surgical gowns and face masks work on a patient under the lights of an operating theatre.
Wound infections are the most common problem after surgery, particularly in developing countries.

Wound infections are the most common problem after surgery, particularly in developing countries, but promised innovations to tackle the issue do not work and global guidance needs changing, a new study reveals.

Both World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UK’s National Institute of Health Research guidelines recommend that surgeons use alcoholic chlorhexidine skin preparation and triclosan coated sutures to prevent Surgical Site Infection (SSI).
However, the world’s largest wound infection trial could not demonstrate superiority of these interventions over lower cost alternatives.

Carried out in Benin, Ghana, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa, the FALCON trial was funded by the UK’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Publishing their findings today in The Lancet, researchers participating in this study are calling for guidelines recommending these measures, either specifically to Low- and Middle-income Countries (LMIC) or at a general global level, to be revised.

Co-author Mr. Aneel Bhangu, from the University of Birmingham, commented: “Surgical site infection is the world’s most common postoperative complication - a major burden for both patients and health systems. We have delivered the biggest trial of its kind, where we could not demonstrate the superiority of these interventions over cheaper alternatives.

“Our findings are hugely important for a wide range of care providers in LMICs, as following existing WHO and NICE guidelines, which have significant cost implications for organisations which have limited resources.”

Patients who develop SSI experience pain, disability, poor healing with risk of wound breakdown, prolonged recovery times and psychological challenges.

Those patients in LMICs are disproportionately affected by higher rates of SSI compared to those in high-income countries - increasing the risk of catastrophic expenditure, impoverishment, and wider negative community impact.

The NIHR Global Research Health Unit on Global Surgery trial covered 5,788 patients from 54 hospitals in seven countries - a broad and representative range including adults and children undergoing contaminated/dirty surgery, emergency surgery and caesarian section.

Co-author Professor Adesoji Ademuyiwa, from the University of Lagos, commented: “The overall SSI rate was very high at 22% - a preventable complication that is causing unnecessary suffering and burden to patients and systems.

“It is clear that small randomised trials should now be avoided and should be replaced with larger trials that can provide more robust evidence on the incidence of SSI, ultimately leading to more effective measures to help tack this global healthcare challenge.”

  • For further information, interviews or to request an embargoed copy of the research paper please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0)782 783 2312. Out-of-hours, please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.
  •  The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • Reducing surgical site infections in low and middle income countries: a pragmatic, multicentre, stratified, randomised controlled trial (FALCON)’ - Adesoji O Ademuyiwa and Aneel Bhangu is published in The Lancet.
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