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OBJECTIVE: To provide a general overview of the reported current surgical capacity and delivery in order to advance current knowledge and suggest targets for further development and research within the region of sub-Saharan Africa. DESIGN: Scoping review. SETTING: District hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa. DATA SOURCES: PubMed and Ovid EMBASE from January 2000 to December 2019. STUDY SELECTION: Studies were included if they contained information about types of surgical procedures performed, number of operations per year, types of anaesthesia delivered, cadres of surgical/anaesthesia providers and/or patients' outcomes. RESULTS: The 52 articles included in analysis provided information about 16 countries. District hospitals were a group of diverse institutions ranging from 21 to 371 beds. The three most frequently reported procedures were caesarean section, laparotomy and hernia repair, but a wide range of orthopaedics, plastic surgery and neurosurgery procedures were also mentioned. The number of operations performed per year per district hospital ranged from 239 to 5233. The most mentioned anaesthesia providers were non-physician clinicians trained in anaesthesia. They deliver mainly general and spinal anaesthesia. Depending on countries, articles referred to different surgical care providers: specialist surgeons, medical officers and non-physician clinicians. 15 articles reported perioperative complications among which surgical site infection was the most frequent. Fifteen articles reported perioperative deaths of which the leading causes were sepsis, haemorrhage and anaesthesia complications. CONCLUSION: District hospitals play a significant role in sub-Saharan Africa, providing both emergency and elective surgeries. Most procedures are done under general or spinal anaesthesia, often administered by non-physician clinicians. Depending on countries, surgical care may be provided by medical officers, specialist surgeons and/or non-physician clinicians. Research on safety, quality and volume of surgical and anaesthesia care in this setting is scarce, and more attention to these questions is required.

Original publication




Journal article


Bmj open

Publication Date





anaesthetics, health services administration & management, surgery