Survey of surgical emergencies in a rural population in the Northern Areas of Pakistan

Mushtaq Ahmed, Mehboob Ali Shah, Stephen Luby, Philomena Drago-Johnson, Sifat Wali

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45 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: To determine the incidence of specific surgical emergencies in a mountainous rural community in the Northern Areas of Pakistan and to assess use of existing health services, and outcomes related to acute surgical illness events. METHOD: A cross-sectional population-based survey was conducted. Interviewers visited each of 178 villages in the study area (population 100000), selected a random sample from a total of 9900 households, and interviewed the oldest premenopausal female member (n = 836). Questions were focused on injury, acute abdomen, and/or maternal morbidity occurring in the past year. Cases were included as surgical emergencies when one or more index clinical features indicating a potential for surgical intervention were present. Mortality from a wider range of surgical emergencies was also elicited based on the respondent's lifetime knowledge of the household. RESULTS: The incidence rates were 1531/100000 persons per year for injuries; 1364/100000 for acute abdomen, and 16462/100000 for maternal morbidity. The rate of injuries was 2.7 times higher and that of acute abdomen twice as high in males as in females. The injury rate decreased with advancing age, being 13 times higher in children < 5 years than in adults > 40. By contrast, the rate for acute abdomen showed a rise with advancing age, being 8 times higher in the > 40 age group than in under-fives. Burns, falls and road accidents, in that order, were the commonest forms of injury accounting for 82% of 138 cases. Of 43 burn casualties, 46% were in the age group < 5 years; there was no gender bias. Of 71 casualties from falls and road accidents, 85% were aged 6-40 years; there was 6: 1 male predominance. The maternal morbidity rate was highest in the age group 25-35 years and may be attributed to the high pregnancy rate in this age bracket. Of 408 patients with acute surgical illness, 85% were managed initially at home or close to home in a health centre, dispensary or civil hospital; 32% eventually sought specialist surgical care. The overall rate for minor and major surgical procedures was 411/100000 persons per year (lowest estimate), and appeared to be low. The rate of operative deliveries at 11.8/1000 deliveries (lowest estimate) was particularly low. The mortality rates were correspondingly high: 55/100000 persons per year for injuries and for acute abdomen (lowest estimates). The maternal mortality ratio was particularly high at 8.9/1000 deliveries (lowest estimate). Annual mortality rates derived from deaths recalled during the respondent's lifetime in the household (mean period = 26 years), tended to corroborate the results of the 1-year survey. CONCLUSION: The incidence rates for broad categories of serious acute surgical illness in the study population far exceeded the rates of acute surgical intervention. Mortality rates were correspondingly high. Such evidence points to a large unmet surgical need and ought to spur improvements in the health service.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)846-857
Number of pages12
JournalTropical Medicine and International Health
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Cross-sectional studies
  • Pakistan
  • Rural populations
  • Surgical emergencies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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