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Emergency and Surgical Care in Universal Health Coverage

Meena Nathan Cherian

Director of GFMER Emergency and Surgical Care

Meena Nathan Cherian

Dr Meena Nathan Cherian MD
Director of GFMER Emergency and Surgical Care

Dr Cherian was a professor of anaesthesiology in Christian Medical College Hospital, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India, where she worked for over 20 years. After completing her medical school from Christian Medical College, Ludhiana, Punjab, India, she worked as a medical officer in a rural mission hospital in India for over 5 years independently performing obstetrics and gynaecology surgery, basic emergency trauma care, and anesthesia. As an anaesthesiologist she worked in USA (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) for 3 years and got further experience in several hospitals in Africa, Southeast Asia.

She joined the World Health Organization, Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland in 2001. Her rural hospital experience provided the vision to work towards creating the first WHO program on ‘surgery’ and was the WHO Emergency & Essential Surgical Care program Lead until her retirement. During her over 14 year tenure, she created the WHO Global Initiative for Emergency and Surgical Care: a global forum of multidisciplinary stakeholders and ministries of health for collaborations and partnerships. Developed documents to support evidence-based policies, best practices and advocacy e.g. WHO Integrated Management of Emergency & Essential Surgical Care toolkit, WHO Emergency and Trauma Care training modules e-learning tool for frontline health providers, Patient Information for Surgical Safety, decision-making tool for surgical management in the context of Ebola, and a film. Also, created the WHO Global Database on Surgical Services and the WHO Global Surgical Workforce Database resulting in several single country and multi-country assessment research papers.

This work resulted in the adoption of the first World Health Assembly Resolution 68/15 on Strengthening Emergency & Essential Surgical Care and Anesthesia in the context of Universal Health Coverage. Five billion people lack access to timely, safe and affordable surgical care which results in preventable death and disability from surgical conditions in road accidents, childbirth, birth defects, cancer, diabetes, tropical diseases, infections, and in humanitarian crisis. This calls for an urgent action for awareness on integration of safe surgical care health systems as a priority in the field of public health globally.

Currently, Dr Cherian leads the Geneva Foundation of Medical Education and Research (GFMER) initiative on Emergency and Surgical Care which includes:

  • Developing a strategy for sharing knowledge in the area of Emergency and Surgical Care
  • Developing an online free access training programme for health professionals and stakeholders with interest in population health to learn about the importance of integrated emergency and surgical care within the framework of Universal Health Coverage (UHC)
  • Create and promote collaborations with organisations including WHO, and professional networks to ensure global as well as national level coordination for knowledge management towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • Capacity building in utilization of evidence-based publications on global burden, best practices, research translating into national policies, plans and programs for timely, affordable and safe surgical (including emergency, trauma, obstetrics, and anesthesia) services within the framework of UHC:
    • encourage and support initiatives to address local country needs through strengthening health systems towards meeting the SDGs
    • organize online training courses on integrated emergency and surgical care within the framework of UHC in collaboration with partners, institutions and ministries of health
    • provide technical support with relevant tools on assessment, capacity building and impact evaluation, for projects planning to use mHealth approaches for access to timely and safe surgical (emergency, trauma, obstetrics, anesthesia) care.