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Prof Kathryn Chu

Inaugural lecture:

October 21, 2021 @ 17:3018:30

Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences

Decolonising global surgery: A call to action

Surgical care can address one-third of the global burden of disease. Unfortunately, 5 billion people worldwide do not have access to surgical care when needed, of which the majority live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Global surgery is the study and practice of providing high-quality surgical care for all. Surgical access is highly inequitable, and this inequity is rooted in colonialism and structural violence. In this inaugural lecture, I discuss some strategies to decolonise e surgery. The centre of power in the global surgery movement has been located in high-income countries. Sustainable health systems capacity building rather than short-term surgical missions is needed. As global surgery units become established in LMICs, these new entities need to shift the power dynamic and develop local research agendas and sustainable pipelines of global surgery leaders from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Surgery is perceived through a biomedical lens rather than viewed as a holistic component of health and well-being. The district hospital should be the cornerstone of surgical care and stakeholders must engage with the community to understand barriers to seeking and reaching care. Understanding and acknowledging the relationship between structural violence and the socio-determinants of health are critical to making surgery accessible. Surgery saves lives. Bottom-up advocacy and grassroots buy-in are needed to co-create sustainable surgical systems to ensure good health and well-being for all.


Short biography

Prof. Kathryn Chu is the inaugural director of the Centre of Global Surgery in the Department of Global Health. She is a general and colorectal surgeon. She received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University. She completed her medical degree and general surgery residency at the University of California San Francisco. She was a Fulbright scholar at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where she received a master’s degree in Public Health and Developing Countries. Her research focuses on evidence-based solutions to providing high-quality and timely surgical access in resource-limited settings. She has co-authored over 80 peer-reviewed publications and is an NRF-rated scientist. Through a Discovery Foundation Distinguished Visitor award, she builds surgical capacity in the Northern Cape province. She works with international and national advocacy groups, including the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa; the South African National Department of Health; and the Association of Surgeons of South Africa, to strengthen surgical health systems. Prof. Chu is a board member for the Consortium of Universities for Global Health and One to One Africa and the immediate past vice-president of Médecins Sans Frontières Southern Africa. She is committed to building a pipeline of future global surgery leaders through capacity building and mentorship.



October 21, 2021


Virtual Inaugural Lecture
Virtual Inaugural Lecture
Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences

Organizer (event)

Amira Brown