The risk of dying from scheduled surgery in Africa is more than double the global average, researchers said on Wednesday, in a study shedding light on one of the continent's biggest but poorly investigated healthcare problems.
Patients who go under the knife in Africa in theory have a lower profile for risk than counterparts elsewhere, as they tend to be younger and are likelier to be admitted for minor rather than major surgery, the investigators found.
But, they discovered, nearly one in five people who underwent surgery in Africa developed complications.
In the case of elective surgery — operations that are scheduled in advance and do not involve a medical emergency — the death rate was 1.0 per cent, compared with 0.5 per cent in the global average.
The paper, published in The Lancet medical journal, is described as the deepest and widest probe into surgery across Africa.
It brought together more than 30 researchers who trawled through data from 247 hospitals in 25 countries.
The main goal was to cover the outcome on 10,885 in-patient surgical procedures, a third of which was for a Caesarean section.
But the data net also included details about any complications, the number of beds, operating rooms and surgical staff, providing vital but fine-grained information about hospital infrastructure.
More than four in every five patients could be considered low-risk candidates for surgery, as they were physically strong and were young, with an average age of 38.5 years.
But complications, mostly entailing an infection, occurred in 18.2 per cent of all patients. Nearly one in 10 (9.5 per cent) of patients with complications died.
Lead researcher Bruce Biccard, a professor at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, pointed the finger at the post-operative phase, where 95 per cent of surgery deaths occurred.
Many of these fatalities could have been prevented, he said.
"Many lives could be saved by effective m