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Pulitzer Center Update May 4, 2015

This Week: Surgery on the Global Health Agenda

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Nilza Munambo listens to a fetal heartbeat. She's in charge of the maternity ward at Chokwe District Hospital and regularly performs cesarean sections even though she's not a doctor. Image by Bridget Huber. Mozambique, 2014.


We tend to think of surgery as the pinnacle of modern medicine, something available only in the most advanced countries. But as Pulitzer Center grantee Bridget Huber reports in this series for PRI's The World, safe, simple and affordable surgery can save thousands of lives in some of the world's least developed countries—and it doesn't necessarily have to be performed by surgeons.

Bridget traveled to Mozambique to write about an unusual group of health workers. "They're called tecnicos, or technicians, and they perform almost all of the surgery in Mozambique. The country only has about 20 practicing surgeons for a population of some 26 million people," she says.

In Uganda, she caught up with Dr. Benjamin Warf, who is associated with Boston Children's Hospital and teaches at Harvard Medical School. He's also known for developing a surgical technique that can be used to treat infant hydrocephalus in countries with minimal healthcare infrastructures. The technique is now being used in the U.S., and as Dr. Warf told Bridget, "global surgery is really a two-way street."

In a separate piece for The Lancet, Bridget notes that about 5 billion people around the world have no access to surgical care. "That means conditions that could be treated surgically, like obstructed labour or appendicitis, can become a death sentence. And something as simple as a broken bone can disable a person for life. Scaling up basic surgical services in low-income and middle-income countries could save an estimated 1·5 million lives per year in these countries."


Saudi Arabia is America's key ally in the Arab world and a crucial counter-balance to Iran's ambitions as a regional superpower. King Salman has been on the throne for less than six months, but already he has signaled important shifts in the country's internal governance and foreign policy.

"In a kingdom used to slow, evolutionary change, [last week's] pre-dawn reshuffling of Saudi Arabia's top leadership is tectonic," writes Pulitzer Center grantee Elizabeth Dickinson in Foreign Policy, "the changes were not entirely unexpected, however, though few expected it would be so soon." Elizabeth, who is in Riyadh, was among the first to weigh in on the implications of the shake-up:

"Internationally, the appointments signaled that King Salman is keen to end several years of stormy ties with Washington. In addition to the changes to succession, the announcement included several other ministerial swaps, most notably removing Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who had been in his post for four decades, and replacing him with Adel al-Jubeir, the outgoing ambassador to Washington. Prince Saud had overseen testy relations between Riyadh and Washington, which disagreed with a host of regional policies in the post-Arab Spring Middle East."


"When Mohamed Aly Ansar studied international law at the University of Bamako, in the capital of Mali, he spent his days thinking about how to bring development to his impoverished nation," writes Pulitzer Center grantee Josh Hammer in a long-form piece published today by The Atavist Magazine.

"But at night, he had a much different dream, one that came to him over and over: He saw himself standing in the middle of the desert near a stage, watching as a helicopter descended. The chopper was carrying the Swedish pop group ABBA, and Ansar was there to receive them."

Decades later, a version of that dream came true. As founder of Festival in the Desert, a concert series sometimes called the African Woodstock, Ansar was waiting on the tarmac for a private jet carrying Bono, the globetrotting front man for U2.

This fascinating story is drawn from Josh's forthcoming book and his reporting in Mali during the war that broke out in 2012. It focuses on the Festival in the Desert—created by Ansar and Iyad Ghali, two friends who were brought together by their love of music and torn apart by radical Islam.

Until next week,

Tom Hundley
Senior Editor