For many years, experts seeking to quantify the “global burden of disease”—delineating what ails people, when, and where—failed to account for how lack of access to surgery fits into the picture. But in the April 2015 issue of Harvard Public Health Review (HPHR), Paul Farmer wrote that not getting surgery when it’s needed for ailments such as cancers, disfigurements, or congenital defects—known as “surgical disease”—actually accounts for a significant portion of the global disease burden.

Farmer, chief strategist and co-founder of Partners In Health and Kolokotrones University Professor and chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, wrote that much of the information about surgery’s key role in global health can be found in the third edition of Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries, in its first volume, Essential Surgery.

In addition to showing “the very large burden from conditions that are primarily or extensively treatable by surgery,” the new volume also dispels the myth that surgery is too expensive or can’t work in settings of poverty, Farmer wrote.

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