Nearly 4.2 million people around the world die every year within 30 days after surgery, more than than those who die from HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined, according to a study.
The analysis, published in a research letter to The Lancet journal, found that half of the post-operative deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
There is also a significant unmet need for surgery in LMICs and researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK believe that if operations were provided for all patients who need them the number of global post-operative deaths would increase to 6.1 million.
The researchers estimate that the number of people who die each year from HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined is 2.97 million, way less than post-operative deaths.
The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery identified that 313 million surgical procedures are performed each year, but little is known about the quality of surgery globally, as robust postoperative death rates are available for only 29 countries, researchers said in a statement.
The team analysed available information to estimate how many people around the world die after operations - based on surgical volume, case-mix and post-operative death rates adjusted for country income.
"Surgery has been the 'neglected stepchild' of global health and has received a fraction of the investment put in to treating infectious diseases such as malaria," said Dmitri Nepogodiev, Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham.
"Although not all postoperative deaths are avoidable, many can be prevented by increasing investment in research, staff training, equipment, and better hospital facilities," Nepogodiev said.
"To avoid millions more people dying after surgery, planned expansion of access to surgery must be complemented by investment in to improving the quality of surgery around the world," he said.
Surgery saves lives and can transform patients' quality of life, but this study shows that a large number of patients die in the immediate postoperative period.
"As efforts continue to increase access to surgery around the world, there is also an urgent need for research to improve the quality and safety of surgery," said Professor Dion Morton from the University of Birmingham.
The researchers project that expanding surgical services to address unmet need would add another 1.9 million post-operative deaths in LMICs each year. Based on 4.2 million deaths, 7.7 per cent of all deaths globally occur within 30 days of surgery, researchers said.
This figure is greater than that attributed to any other cause of death globally except ischaemic heart disease and stroke, they said.
At present, around 4.8 billion people worldwide lack timely access to safe and affordable surgery and it is estimated that there is an annual unmet need for 143 million procedures in LMICs.