Pandemic panic could see surgeries and vaccinations postponed – dpa international


Waiting area inside the traditional Chinese medicine section of Tung Shin Hospital in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

Waiting area inside the traditional Chinese medicine section of Tung Shin Hospital in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — The coronavirus pandemic could see 28.4 million elective surgeries cancelled or postponed worldwide, with potentially deadly consequences for cancer patients, according to a report published on Thursday.

“Patients’ conditions may deteriorate, worsening their quality of life as they wait for rescheduled surgery,” said Aneel Bhangu, consultant surgeon at the NIHR Global Health Research Unit on Global Surgery at Britain’s University of Birmingham.

“In some cases, for example cancer, delayed surgeries may lead to a number of unnecessary deaths,” said Bhangu, one of a group of doctors and academics across 11 countries who authored the report, which was published in the British Journal of Surgery.

Based on information shared by doctors at 359 hospitals in 71 countries, the study was prompted by Britain’s National Health Service announcing in March that “non-urgent” surgeries would be cancelled for a period of 12 weeks.

The researchers projected the potential impact of a similar three months of “peak disruption to hospital services” across almost 200 countries.

Almost three-quarters of all surgeries could be postponed, the researchers found, with orthopaedic procedures the most likely to be shelved.

The backlog of surgeries could take two years to clear, the authors estimated.

While less likely to be put off than other procedures, over 2 million cancer operations could be affected by the redirection of resources to fighting the pandemic, the doctors warned.

Such concerns echo recent warnings that a range of potentially-fatal conditions face neglect due to the pandemic – which has so far claimed over 300,000 lives from 4.4 million reported cases worldwide.

On May 6, the Stop TB Partnership warned of “unintended yet drastic consequences on tuberculosis (TB) services” caused by health sectors’ focus on Covid-19.

The partnership projected that a three-month global lockdown followed by a 10-month restoration of services could lead to an additional 6.3 million TB cases and 1.4 million deaths up to 2025.

In April, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said that over 13 million people worldwide faced delays in getting inoculated against diseases such as polio.

The United Nations’ warned the same month that up to 117 million children could contract measles due to vaccination work being suspended.

Other concerns have been flagged about the pandemic causing the neglect of conditions such as asthma and diabetes, despite such “co-morbidities” exacerbating vulnerability to Covid-19.

Britain’s National Health Service said on Thursday that diabetics made up a quarter of the country’s reported Covid-19 dead.

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