Empowering Women in Surgery: an AO Alliance-COSECSA Partnership

08 March 2023

The College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA) and the AO Alliance are proud to announce the launch of the Scholarship for Women in FCS Orthopaedics, Neurosurgery & Paediatric-Orthopaedic Programmes. This commitment to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG5) to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, will increase the number of women surgeons in the region, as well as empower and support women who are already working in the aforementioned fields. The 2023 scholarship has been awarded to 11 candidates from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

The trend of increasing the representation of women in medical school admissions is not reflected within the field of surgery, where only 12% of surgeons are women. Even greater gender inequality exists within trauma and orthopedics, where on average only 6% of women are trauma and orthopedic (T&O) surgeons.

Women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are 40% less likely to consider surgery as a career, as they face ob¬stacles to career development. These include lack of financial support for training, scarcity of mentorship and female role models, a bias against women surgical train¬ees who choose to have children and pay inequality. In the T&O surgical specialty, the perception that physical strength is required is also often cited as a deterrent for women.

According to the findings of the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery (2015), most LMICs are facing a surgical workforce crisis. With five billion people lacking access to essential surgical care, and an additional 2.2 million surgical specialists needed to address this global challenge, the AO Alliance and COSECSA believe closing the gender gap is not only about equality for women but is the most impactful and effective way to meet the need for surgical workforce.

This scholarship removes some of the barriers to women seeking specialized training.

In addition to the above, the AO Alliance has supported over 50 orthopedic surgeons in training to complete their COSECSA Surgical Programme examination. Of these, half graduated in 2022, and the remaining half are expected to graduate in 2023.

The overall aim of the partnership between COSECSA and the AO Alliance is to increase surgical capacity in the 14 COSECSA member countries.