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MS Alumna Finds High Prevalence of Pediatric Surgical Conditions in Somaliland

February 18, 2019

By Nick Steenwyk

Surgical conditions represent a significant health care burden for adults in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), but the burden among children in LMICs is less understood. A surgical condition refers to any disease, illness or injury in which surgical care can potentially improve the outcome.

Master of Science in Global Health alumna Tessa Concepcion MS’18 recently published her master’s thesis, a research study characterizing surgical conditions among children in Somaliland, in JAMA Network Open. Concepcion and her team used a national, community-based sampling survey called the Surgeons OverSeas Assessment of Surgical Need to assess prevalence of pediatric surgical conditions and access to treatment.

The data revealed that more than 12 percent of children in Somaliland aged 15 and under had one or more surgical conditions and that up to 75 percent of these children did not receive appropriate surgical care. The most common surgical conditions identified in the study were congenital anomalies and wound-related injuries.

Concepcion’s primary research advisor, Emily Smith, noted that Concepcion was the first Duke Global Health Institute student to conduct research in Somaliland, a country with extremely limited research infrastructure. “The work and set-up of the new location and undertaking of the country-wide project took a massive amount of planning,” said Smith, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Baylor University and Duke Global Health Institute adjunct. “Tessa met these challenges with grit, tenacity and professionalism in a way that built friendships and collaborations with our in-country partners.”

The results of the study will be used to develop targeted interventions to improve access to pediatric surgery and pinpoint which regions of the country have greatest need. Concepcion also authored a policy briefing advocating for the Ministry of Health to incorporate pediatric surgical care into national health plans and scale up access to care.

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Female Surgeon Operating in Somaliland
Somaliland’s first and only female surgeon and her surgical assistant operate on a pediatric patient at Edna Adan University Hospital. Photo by Tessa Concepcion.

More than 12 percent of children in Somaliland aged 15 and under had one or more surgical conditions and up to 75 percent of these children did not receive appropriate surgical care. 

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