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Humanitarian surgical service utilization by a host country population: comparing surgery patterns between refugees and Tanzanians using an interrupted time-series analysis

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Zachary Obinna Enumah, Sarah Rapaport, Hilary Ngude, Gayane Yenokyan, Amber Lekey, Peter J. Winch & Kent A. Stevens



While current estimates suggest that up to three million additional surgical procedures are needed to meet the needs of forcibly displaced populations, literature on surgical care for refugee or forced migrant populations has often focused on acute phase and war-related trauma or violence with insufficient attention to non-war related pathologies. To our knowledge, no study has compared refugee versus host population utilization of surgical services in a refugee camp-based hospital over such an extended period of twenty years. The aim of this paper is to first describe the patterns of surgical care by comparing refugee and host population utilization of surgical services in Nyarugusu refugee camp between 2000 and 2020, then evaluate the impact of a large influx of refugees in 2015 on refugee and host population utilization.


The study was based on a retrospective review of surgical logbooks in Nyarugusu refugee camp (Kigoma, Tanzania) between 2000 and 2020. We utilized descriptive statistics and multiple group, interrupted time series methodology to assess baseline utilization of surgical services by a host population (Tanzanians) compared to refugees and trends in utilization before and after a large influx of Burundian refugees in 2015.


A total of 10,489 operations were performed in Nyarugusu refugee camp between 2000 and 2020. Refugees underwent the majority of procedures in this dataset (n = 7,767, 74.0%) versus Tanzanians (n = 2,722, 26.0%). The number of surgeries increased over time for both groups. The top five procedures for both groups included caesarean section, bilateral tubal ligation, herniorrhaphy, exploratory laparotomy and hysterectomy. In our time series model, refugees had 3.21 times the number of surgeries per quarter at baseline when compared to Tanzanians. The large influx of Burundian refugees in 2015 impacted surgical output significantly with a 38% decrease (IRR = 0.62, 95% CI 0.46–0.84) in surgeries in the Tanzanian group and a non-significant 20% increase in the refugee group (IRR = 1.20, 95% CI 0.99–1.46). The IRR for the difference-in-difference (ratio of ratios of post versus pre-intervention slopes between refugees and Tanzanians) was 1.04 (95% CI 1.00–1.07), and this result was significant (p=0.028).


Surgical care in conflict and post-conflict settings is not limited to war or violence related trauma but instead includes a large burden of obstetrical and general surgical pathology. Host population utilization of surgical services in Nyarugusu camp accounted for over 25% of all surgeries performed, suggesting some host population benefit of the protracted refugee situation in western Tanzania. Host population utilization of surgical services was apparently different after a large influx of refugees from Burundi in 2015.