World Journal of Surgery

, Volume 35, Issue 6, pp 1169-1172

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Quality of Care in Humanitarian Surgery

  • Kathryn M. ChuAffiliated withMedical Department, Médecins Sans Frontières–South AfricaDepartment of Surgery, Johns Hopkins University Email author 
  • , Miguel TrellesAffiliated withMédecins Sans Frontières–Belgium, Surgery, Anesthesia, Gynecology, and Emergency Medicine Unit, Medical Department
  • , Nathan P. FordAffiliated withMedical Department, Médecins Sans Frontières–South Africa


Humanitarian surgical programs are set up de novo, within days or hours in emergency or disaster settings. In such circumstances, insuring quality of care is extremely challenging. Basic structural inputs such as a safe structure, electricity, clean water, a blood bank, sterilization equipment, a post-anesthesia recovery unit, appropriate medications should be established. Currently, no specific credentials are needed for surgeons to operate in a humanitarian setting; the training of more humanitarian surgeons is desperately needed. Standard perioperative protocols for the humanitarian setting after common procedures such as Cesarean section, burn care, open fractures, and amputations and antibiotic prophylaxis, and post-operative pain management must be developed. Outcome data, especially long-term outcomes, are difficult to collect as patients often do not return for follow-up and may be difficult to trace; standard databases for post-operative infections and mortality rates should be established. Checklists have recently received significant attention as an instrument to support the improvement of surgical quality; knowing which items are most applicable to humanitarian settings remains unknown. In conclusion, the quality of surgical services in humanitarian settings must be regulated. Many other core medical activities of humanitarian organizations such as therapeutic feeding, mass vaccination, and the treatment of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and human immunodeficiency virus, are subject to rigorous reporting of quality indicators. There is no reason why surgery should be exempted from quality oversight. The surgical humanitarian community should pull together before the next disaster strikes.