Prevalence of Untreated Surgical Conditions in Rural Rwanda: A Population-Based Cross-sectional Study in Burera District

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In low- and middle-income countries, community-level surgical epidemiology is largely undefined. Accurate community-level surgical epidemiology is necessary for surgical health systems planning.


To determine the prevalence of surgical conditions in Burera District, Northern Province, Rwanda.

Design, Setting, and Participants

A cross-sectional study with a 2-stage cluster sample design (at village and household level) was carried out in

Design, Setting, and Participants

Burera District in March and May 2012.

Design, Setting, and Participants

A team of surgeons randomly sampled 30 villages with probability proportionate to village population size, then sampled 23 households within each village. All available household members were examined.

Main Outcomes and Measures

The presence of 10 index surgical conditions (injuries/wounds, hernias/hydroceles, breast masses, neck masses, obstetric fistulas, undescended testes, hypospadias, hydrocephalus, cleft lip/palate, and clubfoot) was determined by physical examination. Prevalence was estimated overall and for each condition. Multivariable logistic regression was performed to identify factors associated with surgical conditions, accounting for the complex survey design.


Of the 2165 examined individuals, 1215 (56.2%) were female. The prevalence of any surgical condition among all examined individuals was 12% (95% CI, 9.2-14.9%). Half of conditions were hernias/hydroceles (49.6%), and 44% were injuries/wounds. In multivariable analysis, children 5 years or younger had twice the odds of having a surgical condition compared with married individuals 21 to 35 years of age (reference group) (odds ratio [OR], 2.2; 95% CI, 1.26-4.04; P = .01). The oldest group, people older than 50 years, also had twice the odds of having a surgical condition compared with the reference group (married, aged >50 years: OR, 2.3; 95% CI, 1.28-4.23; P = .01; unmarried, aged >50 years: OR, 2.38; 95% CI, 1.02-5.52; P = .06). Unmarried individuals 21 to 35 years of age and unmarried individuals aged 36 to 50 years had higher odds of a surgical condition compared with the reference group (aged 21-35 years: OR, 1.68; 95% CI, 0.74-3.82; P = .22; aged 36-50 years: OR, 3.35; 95% CI, 1.29-9.11; P = .02). There was no statistical difference in odds by sex, wealth, education, or travel time to the nearest hospital.

Conclusions and Relevance

The prevalence of surgically treatable conditions in northern Rwanda was considerably higher than previously estimated modeling and surveys in comparable low- and middle-income countries. This surgical backlog must be addressed in health system plans to increase surgical infrastructure and workforce in rural Africa.

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