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Surgeons performing an operation in theatre
Continuing life-saving work in developing countries – finding ways of increasing surgical capacity and preventing post-operative complications.

A world-leading global surgical research team led by the University of Birmingham has received £7 million of funding to continue its life-saving work in developing countries – finding ways of increasing surgical capacity and preventing post-operative complications.

The NIHR Global Health Research Unit on Global Surgery (NIHR GSU) will focus on training non-surgeons to perform essential hernia operations – hernias posing a major problem with five million patients awaiting surgery in sub-Saharan Africa, stopping young men from providing for their families.

The team will also continue its work in boosting post-operative recovery in Low- and Middle-income Countries (LMIC) – testing simple innovations such as the use of high-dose oxygen, mouthwashes and inhalers.

Researchers are also looking to bring innovation back into the health systems of high-income countries by piloting innovative practices in LMICs – proving their worth ahead of wider roll-out.

Established in 2017, the new NIHR funding will allow the GSU to continue its global research for at least a further five years. The Unit co-ordinates a global network of surgeons that includes over 20,000 clinicians from over 100 countries.

Based at the University of Birmingham, it is co-directed by Professor Dion Morton OBE, Barling Chair of Surgery and Professor Stephen Tabiri, Dean of the Medical School at University for Development Studies in Tamale, Ghana.

Delivering safe and effective surgical care across the world is one of the greatest challenges facing global health today. Our work impacts the most disadvantaged and vulnerable populations of the world - we are training surgeons in these countries to continue the research drive that is helping to save lives.

Professor Dion Morton, Professor of Surgery

Professor Morton commented: “Surgical capacity is a critical issue – a matter of life and death. In many developing countries, there are simply not enough surgeons to deliver the operations that are needed – there are less than 100 general surgeons working in the Benin health service to serve a population of 12 million people.

“Equally, it’s no use performing more operations if patients are at risk of dying from post-operative complications. Simple but effective steps in reducing risks such as surgical site infection (SSI) - the most common post-surgical complication – will be vital in ensuring improved health outcomes for people living in LMICs.”

The GSU’s international cohort studies are open to all collaborators – whether medical students, clinical officers, doctors, nurses or researchers. The team works across clinical disciplines with healthcare professionals, policy makers, epidemiologists, economists, patients and community members.

The GSU provides the tools and infrastructure to help surgeons around the world to sustain the research drive that will increase surgical capacity in LMICs.

A ‘hub and spoke model’ helps the GSU co-ordinate surgical research globally in seven LMICs: India, South Africa, Rwanda, Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Mexico. Each hub acts as an independent research centre for conducting clinical trials and cohort studies, as well as supporting local and international research training and education. The network consists of more than 100 urban and rural hospitals in these seven countries, some in the most remote parts of the world.

The GSU runs a range of cohort studies, qualitative research and clinical trials aimed at: