The World Health Organization (WHO) is expanding its training of health care workers in low- and middle-income countries to be able to perform basic surgical operations that will save lives and prevent disabilities.

The training program, which trains staff in simple surgical procedures, anesthesia and emergency care, already exists in 22 countries. The WHO plans to expand it in order to allow more rural hospitals and health centers to perform simple surgeries, as many low-income countries are facing a shortage of qualified health care workers that can perform essential, life-saving tasks.

“The initiative signifies a shift in the way we think about surgery,” said Dr. Luc Noel, head of clinical procedures at WHO. “Until recently, surgery was a neglected health issue in developing countries because it was assumed to be too expensive and sophisticated.”

Access to surgery can be valuable for patients with HIV/AIDS, as some of the complications associated with HIV—including abscesses, anorectal disorders, lipoatrophy or mild forms of Kaposi’s sarcoma—can be treated with simple surgical interventions.