Lack of reliable, affordable access to surgery kills more people around the world each year than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

In addition to the unquantifiable human suffering, this lack of surgical care is expected to cost the global economy some $12 trillion by 2030 in lost productivity.

Yet, this dark picture, described in the 2015 Lancet Commission on Global Surgery, has a surprising bright side, according global health experts.

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Developing the capacity necessary to fill the world’s unmet surgical needs in low- and middle-income countries would cost $350 billion—a relatively meager investment by global economy standards—and would have the potential to yield an impressively high return of more than $11 trillion, according to the Lancet Commission.

The tricky part is figuring out how to get the resources needed now to make a brighter future possible. It’s been especially challenging, global surgery advocates say, because until recently, few funders have considered surgical capacity to be an important part of global health delivery or international development.

This fall, a series of commentaries published in the journal Surgery highlights the roles that four major global health agencies and funders could play in closing the surgery gap. In the quartet of papers, a team of scientists led by researchers from the Harvard Medical School Program in Global Surgery and Social Change call for increased support to help research, develop and deploy solutions to address the surgical shortfall. The authors on the report include surgeons, global health experts and representatives from several funding agencies.

The launch of the Lancet Commission, which made crucial progress in mapping the path toward global surgery equity, has resulted in a growing acknowledgement of the importance of surgery as an integral part of global health.

The four-paper series reviews the central role played by each of the major health agencies —the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—in strengthening health systems. The papers go on to highlight the specific roles each organization could play in developing infrastructure and access to surgery, obstetrics and anesthesia—the foundational medical-surgical specialties crucial to efforts that ensure reliable access to safe surgical care, according to the authors.

Read more at Harvard Medical School