The Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic and the Response in Low-to-Middle Income Countries

Purpose of Review
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge to healthcare, particularly in resource-constrained low and middle-income countries (LMICs). We aim to summarize the challenges faced by LMICs in providing breast cancer care during the pandemic and their response during this crisis.

Recent Findings
Conversion of oncology centers into COVID-19 isolation centers and lack of LMIC applicable guidelines for breast cancer treatment worsened the challenge for providers. Few LMICs changed their management framework, taking steps like triaging patients, prioritizing care, therapeutic spacing, and a shift to telehealth.

Modified protocols where available have served LMICs well for resource allocation; however, effectiveness of these cannot be determined due to lack of outcomes reporting. This pandemic has underscored the importance of flexibility, prompt intervention, good communication, and reassessment to address unexpected healthcare challenges and has been a learning lesson to help tailor guidelines early in the future.

Increased complications in patients who test COVID-19 positive after elective surgery and implications for pre and postoperative screening

The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated the adoption of protocols to minimize risk of periprocedural complications associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection. This typically involves a preoperative symptom screen and nasal swab RT-PCR test for viral RNA. Asymptomatic patients with a negative COVID-19 test are cleared for surgery. However, little is known about the rate of postoperative COVID-19 positivity among elective surgical patients, risk factors for this group and rate of complications.
This prospective multicenter study included all patients undergoing elective surgery at 170 Veterans Health Administration (VA) hospitals across the United States. Patients were divided into groups based on first positive COVID-19 test within 30 days after surgery (COVID[-/+]), before surgery (COVID[+/−]) or negative throughout (COVID[−/−]). The cumulative incidence, risk factors for and complications of COVID[-/+], were estimated using univariate analysis, exact matching, and multivariable regression.
Between March 1 and December 1, 2020 90,093 patients underwent elective surgery. Of these, 60,853 met inclusion criteria, of which 310 (0.5%) were in the COVID[-/+] group. Adjusted multivariable logistic regression identified female sex, end stage renal disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, cancer, cirrhosis, and undergoing neurosurgical procedures as risk factors for being in the COVID[-/+] group. After matching on current procedural terminology code and month of procedure, multivariable Poisson regression estimated the complication rate ratio for the COVID[-/+] group vs. COVID[−/−] to be 8.4 (C.I. 4.9–14.4) for pulmonary complications, 3.0 (2.2, 4.1) for major complications, and 2.6 (1.9, 3.4) for any complication.
Despite preoperative COVID-19 screening, there remains a risk of COVID infection within 30 days after elective surgery. This risk is increased for patients with a high comorbidity burden and those undergoing neurosurgical procedures. Higher intensity preoperative screening and closer postoperative monitoring is warranted in such patients because they have a significantly elevated risk of postoperative complications.

An Assessment of Anesthesia Capacity in Liberia: Opportunities for Rebuilding Post-Ebola

The health system of Liberia, a low-income country in West Africa, was devastated by a civil war lasting from 1989 to 2003. Gains made in the post-war period were compromised by the 2014–2016 Ebola epidemic. The already fragile health system experienced worsening of health indicators, including an estimated 111% increase in the country’s maternal mortality rate post-Ebola. Access to safe surgery is necessary for improvement of these metrics, yet data on surgical and anesthesia capacity in Liberia post-Ebola are sparse. The aim of this study was to describe anesthesia capacity in Liberia post-Ebola as part of the development of a National Surgical, Obstetric, and Anesthesia Plan (NSOAP).

Using the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists (WFSA) Anaesthesia Facility Assessment Tool (AFAT), we conducted a cross-sectional survey of 26 of 32 Ministry of Health recognized hospitals that provide surgical care in Liberia. The surveyed hospitals served approximately 90% of the Liberian population. This assessment surveyed infrastructure, workforce, service delivery, information management, medications, and equipment and was performed between July and September 2019. Researchers obtained data from interviews with anesthesia department heads, medical directors and through direct site visits where possible.

Anesthesiologist and nurse anesthetist workforce densities were 0.02 and 1.56 per 100,000 population, respectively, compared to 0.63 surgeons per 100,000 population and 0.52 obstetricians/gynecologists per 100,000 population. On average, there were 2 functioning operating rooms (ORs; OR in working condition that can be used for patient care) per hospital (standard deviation [SD] = 0.79; range, 1–3). Half of the hospitals surveyed had a postanesthesia care unit (PACU) and intensive care unit (ICU); however, only 1 hospital had mechanical ventilation capacity in the ICU. Ketamine and lidocaine were widely available. Intravenous (IV) morphine was always available in only 6 hospitals. None of the hospitals surveyed completely met the minimum World Health Organization (WHO)-WFSA standards for health care facilities where surgery and anesthesia are provided.

Overall, we noted several critical gaps in anesthesia and surgical capacity in Liberia, in spite of the massive global response post-Ebola directed toward health system development. Further investment across all domains is necessary to attain minimum international standards and to facilitate the provision of safe surgery and anesthesia in Liberia. The study results will be considered in development of an NSOAP for Liberia.

Assessment of feasibility and acceptability of family-centered care implemented at a neonatal intensive care unit in India

A family-centered care (FCC) parent participation program that ensures an infant is not separated from parents against their will was developed for the caring of their small or sick newborn at a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Delhi, India. Healthcare provider sensitization training directed at psychosocial and tangible support and an audio-visual training tool for parent-attendants were developed that included: 1) handwashing, infection prevention, protocol for entry; 2) developmentally supportive care, breastfeeding, expression of breastmilk and assisted feeding; 3) kangaroo mother care; and 4) preparation for discharge and care at home. The study aimed to examine the feasibility and acceptability of the FCC model in a NICU in India.

A prospective cohort design collected quantitative data on each parent-attendant/infant dyad at enrollment, during the NICU stay, and at discharge. Feasibility of the FCC program was measured by assessing the participation of parent-attendants and healthcare providers, and whether training components were implemented as intended. Acceptability was measured by the proportion of parent-attendants who participated in the trainings and their ability to accurately complete program activities.

Of 395 NICU admissions during the study period, eligible participants included 333 parent-attendant/infant dyads, 24 doctors, and 21 nurses. Of the 1242 planned parent-attendant training sessions, 939 (75.6%) were held, indicating that program fidelity was high, and the majority of trainings were implemented as intended. While 50% of parent-attendants completed all 4 FCC training sessions, 95% completed sessions 1 and 2; 60% of the total participating parent-attendants completed session 3, and 75% completed session 4. Compliance rates were over 96% for 5 of 10 FCC parent-attendant activities, and 60 to 78% for the remaining 5 activities.

FCC was feasible to implement in this setting and was acceptable to participating parent-attendants and healthcare providers. Parents participated in trainings conducted by NICU providers and engaged in essential care to their infants in the NICU. A standard care approach and behavior norms for healthcare providers directed psychosocial and tangible support to parent-attendants so that a child is not separated from his or her parents against their will while receiving advanced care in the NICU.

Did COVID-19 Pandemic change Anaesthesia Practices in India: A Multi-centre Cross-sectional Study

The anaesthetic management for surgeries during the COVID-19 pandemic has posed unique challenges. Safety of all healthcare workers is an additional concern along with heightened risk to patients during General Anesthesia (GA). COVID-19 pneumonia and aerosol generation may be exacerbated during airway intervention and GA. We aimed to assess the change in the mode of anaesthesia due to the pandemic.

A research consortium led by WHO Collaboration Centre for Research in Surgical Care Delivery in Low and Middle Income countries, India, conducted this retrospective cross-sectional study in 12 hospitals across the country. We compared the anaesthesia preferences during pandemic (April 2020) to a corresponding pre pandemic period (April 2019)

A total of 636 out of 2,162 (29.4%) and 156 out of 927 (16.8%) surgeries were performed under GA in April 2019 and April 2020 respectively, leading to a fall of 13% in usage of GA. A 5% reduction in GA and a 12% increase in the usage of regional anaesthesia was observed for cesarean sections. There was no significant change in anesthesia for laparotomies and fracture surgeries. However, 14% increase in GA usage was observed in surgeries for local soft tissue infections and necrotic tissues.

Though overall usage of GA reduced marginally, the change was mainly contributed by anesthesia for caesarean births. The insignificant change in anaesthesia for other surgeries may be attributed to the lack of facilities for spinal anaesthesia and may reflect the risk taking behaviour of healthcare professionals in COVID-19 pandemic.

Construction and Performance Testing of a Fast-Assembly COVID-19 (FALCON) Emergency Ventilator in a Model of Normal and Low-Pulmonary Compliance Conditions

Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed an immense, unmet and international need for available ventilators. Both clinical and engineering groups around the globe have responded through the development of “homemade” or do-it-yourself (DIY) ventilators. Several designs have been prototyped, tested, and shared over the internet. However, many open source DIY ventilators require extensive familiarity with microcontroller programming and electronics assembly, which many healthcare providers may lack. In light of this, we designed and bench tested a low-cost, pressure-controlled mechanical ventilator that is “plug and play” by design, where no end-user microcontroller programming is required. This Fast-AssembLy COVID-Nineteen (FALCON) emergency prototype ventilator can be rapidly assembled and could be readily modified and improved upon to potentially provide a ventilatory option when no other is present, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Hypothesis: We anticipated that a minimal component prototype ventilator could be easily assembled that could reproduce pressure/flow waveforms and tidal volumes similar to a hospital grade ventilator (Engström CarestationTM).

Materials and Methods: We benched-tested our prototype ventilator using an artificial test lung under 36 test conditions with varying respiratory rates, peak inspiratory pressures (PIP), positive end expiratory pressures (PEEP), and artificial lung compliances. Pressure and flow waveforms were recorded, and tidal volumes calculated with prototype ventilator performance compared to a hospital-grade ventilator (Engström CarestationTM) under identical test conditions.

Results: Pressure and flow waveforms produced by the prototype ventilator were highly similar to the CarestationTM. The ventilator generated consistent PIP/PEEP, with tidal volume ranges similar to the CarestationTM. The FALCON prototype was tested continuously for a 5-day period without failure or significant changes in delivered PIP/PEEP.

Conclusion: The FALCON prototype ventilator is an inexpensive and easily-assembled “plug and play” emergency ventilator design. The FALCON ventilator is currently a non-certified prototype that, following further appropriate validation and testing, might eventually be used as a life-saving emergency device in extraordinary circumstances when more sophisticated forms of ventilation are unavailable.

Respiratory complications after surgery in Vietnam: National estimates of the economic burden

Estimating the cost of postoperative respiratory complications is crucial in developing appropriate strategies to mitigate the global and national economic burden. However, systematic analysis of the economic burden in low- and middle-income countries is lacking.

We used the nationwide database of the Vietnam Social Insurance agency and extracted data from January 2017 to September 2018. The data contain 1 241 893 surgical patients undergoing one of seven types of surgery. Propensity score matching method was used to match cases with and without complications. We used generalized gamma regressions to estimate the direct medical costs; logistic regressions to evaluate the impact of postoperative respiratory complications on re-hospitalization and outpatient visits.

Postoperative respiratory complications increased the odds of re-hospitalization and outpatient visits by 3·49 times (95% CI: 3·35–3·64) and 1·39 times (95% CI: 1·34–1·45) among surgical patients, respectively. The mean incremental cost associated with postoperative respiratory complications occurring within 30 days of the index admission was 1053·3 USD (95% CI: 940·7–1165·8) per procedure, which was equivalent to 41% of the GDP per capita of Vietnam in 2018. We estimated the national annual incremental cost due to respiratory complications occurring within 30 days after surgery was 13·87 million USD. Pneumonia contributed the greatest part of the annual cost burden of postoperative respiratory complications.

The economic burden of postoperative respiratory complications is substantial at both individual and national levels. Postoperative respiratory complications also increase the odds of re-hospitalization and outpatient visits and increase the length of hospital stay among surgical patients.

Predicting mortality in adults with suspected infection in a Rwandan hospital: an evaluation of the adapted MEWS, qSOFA and UVA scores

Rationale: Mortality prediction scores are increasingly being evaluated in low and middle income countries (LMICs) for research comparisons, quality improvement and clinical decision-making. The modified early warning score (MEWS), quick Sequential (Sepsis-Related) Organ Failure Assessment (qSOFA), and Universal Vital Assessment (UVA) score use variables that are feasible to obtain, and have demonstrated potential to predict mortality in LMIC cohorts.

Objective: To determine the predictive capacity of adapted MEWS, qSOFA and UVA in a Rwandan hospital.

Design, setting, participants and outcome measures: We prospectively collected data on all adult patients admitted to a tertiary hospital in Rwanda with suspected infection over 7 months. We calculated an adapted MEWS, qSOFA and UVA score for each participant. The predictive capacity of each score was assessed including sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive value, OR, area under the receiver operating curve (AUROC) and performance by underlying risk quartile.

Results: We screened 19 178 patient days, and enrolled 647 unique patients. Median age was 35 years, and in-hospital mortality was 18.1%. The proportion of data missing for each variable ranged from 0% to 11.7%. The sensitivities and specificities of the scores were: adapted MEWS >4, 50.4% and 74.9%, respectively; qSOFA >2, 24.8% and 90.4%, respectively; and UVA >4, 28.2% and 91.1%, respectively. The scores as continuous variables demonstrated the following AUROCs: adapted MEWS 0.69 (95% CI 0.64 to 0.74), qSOFA 0.65 (95% CI 0.60 to 0.70), and UVA 0.71 (95% CI 0.66 to 0.76); there was no statistically significant difference between the discriminative capacities of the scores.

Conclusion: Three scores demonstrated a modest ability to predict mortality in a prospective study of inpatients with suspected infection at a Rwandan tertiary hospital. Careful consideration must be given to their adequacy before using them in research comparisons, quality improvement or clinical decision-making.

Perception and Attitude of Surgical Trainees in Nigeria to Trauma Care

Background. Trauma is still the leading cause of death in individuals between the ages of 1 and 44 years. Establishment of good trauma centres and systems has been shown to have a significant positive impact on outcomes. Surgical specialties, particularly trauma, are becoming less attractive in different parts of the world for a variety of reasons. Aim.  The aim of this study is to ascertain the perception and attitude of future surgeons towards trauma care in Nigeria. Materials and methods. This is a cross-sectional study using a pretested, structured, paper-based questionnaire which was administered to consecutive surgical trainees at the annual revision course of West African College of Surgeons. Data were analyzed using SPSS version 12, and results are presented in tables and figures. Results. One hundred and fifty-seven questionnaires were adequately completed with a male-to-female ratio of 18 : 1 and median age of 30 years. There is a general agreement among the respondents that trauma incidence in Nigeria is high or very high. While about 70% of the respondents believe that the Nigerian trauma system is poorly planned, about 19% think it is nonexistent. 81 (53.7%) agree or strongly agree that managing trauma patients is too stressful. A good number, 116 (74.4%), strongly agree that having a separate dedicated trauma unit will improve care and outcome. While 82% of the surgical trainees support post fellowship training in trauma, only 62.2% will like to have the training. There is no significant difference between the proportion of males and females who would like to have the training. Conclusion. Surgical trainees in Nigeria have good perception and positive attitude towards trauma care. Primary prevention measures must be emphasized during surgical trainees’ training in trauma.

A baseline review of the ability of hospitals in Kenya to provide emergency and critical care services for COVID-19 patients

As the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in Kenya begin to rise, the number of severe and critical COVID-19 patients has the potential to quickly overload the local healthcare system beyond its capacity to treat people.

The purpose of this study was to gather information about the ability of hospitals in Kenya to provide emergency and critical care services and to identify priority actions for use by policymakers and other stakeholders as a roadmap toward strengthening the COVID-19 response in the country.

This was a comprehensive review of the published and grey literature on emergency and critical care services in Kenya published in the last three years through April 2020. Screening of articles was conducted independently by the authors and the final decision for inclusion was made collaboratively. A total of 15 papers and documents were included in the review.

Key recommendations.

There is an urgent need to strengthen prehospital emergency care in Kenya by establishing a single toll-free ambulance access number and an integrated public Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system to respond to severe and critical COVID-19 patients in the community and other emergency cases. Functional 24-h emergency departments (EDs) need to be established in all the level 4, 5 and 6 hospitals in the country to ensure these patients receive immediate lifesaving emergency care when they arrive at the hospitals. The EDs should be equipped with pulse oximeters and functioning oxygen systems and have the necessary resources and skills to perform endotracheal intubation to manage COVID-19-induced respiratory distress and hypoxia. Additional intensive care unit (ICU) beds and ventilators are also needed to ensure continuity of care for the critically ill patients seen in the ED. Appropriate practical interventions should be instituted to limit the spread of COVID-19 to healthcare personnel and other patients within the healthcare system. Further research with individual facility levels of assessment around infrastructure and service provision is necessary to more narrowly define areas with significant shortfalls in emergency and critical care services as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country increase.