Barriers to access and utilization of healthcare by children with neurological impairments and disability in low-and middle-income countries: a systematic review

Background: Neurological impairments (NI) and disability are common among survivors of childhood mortality in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs). We conducted a systematic review to examine the barriers limiting access and utilization of biomedical care by children and adolescents with NI in LMICs.
Methods: We searched PubMed, Latin America and Caribbean Health Sciences Literature, Global Index Medicus, and Google Scholar for studies published between 01/01/1990 and 14/11/2019 to identify relevant studies. We included all reports on barriers limiting access and utilization of preventive, curative, and rehabilitative care for children aged 0-19 years with NI in five domains: epilepsy, and cognitive, auditory, visual, and motor function impairment. Data from primary studies were synthesized using both qualitative and quantitative approaches, and we report a synthesized analysis of the barriers identified in the primary studies.
Results: Our literature searches identified 3,074 reports of which 16 were included in the final analysis. Fourteen studies (87.5%) originated from rural settings in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Factors limiting access and utilization of healthcare services in >50% of the studies were: financial constraints (N=15, 93.8%), geographical inaccessibility (N=11, 68.8%), inadequate healthcare resources (N=11, 68.8%), inadequate education/awareness (N=9, 56.3%), and prohibitive culture/beliefs (N=9, 56.3%). Factors reported in <50% of the studies related to the attitude of the patient, health worker, or society (N=7, 43.8%), poor doctor-patient communication (N=5, 31.3%), physical inaccessibility (N=3, 18.8%), and a lack of confidentiality for personal information (N=2, 12.5%). Very few reports were identified from outside Africa preventing a statistical analysis by continent and economic level.
Conclusions: Financial constraints, geographic inaccessibility, and inadequate healthcare resources were the most common barriers limiting access and utilization of healthcare services by children with NI in LMICs.
PROSPERO registration: CRD42020165296 (28/04/2020)

Timing of surgery following SARS‐CoV‐2 infection: an international prospective cohort study

Peri‐operative SARS‐CoV‐2 infection increases postoperative mortality. The aim of this study was to determine the optimal duration of planned delay before surgery in patients who have had SARS‐CoV‐2 infection. This international, multicentre, prospective cohort study included patients undergoing elective or emergency surgery during October 2020. Surgical patients with pre‐operative SARS‐CoV‐2 infection were compared with those without previous SARS‐CoV‐2 infection. The primary outcome measure was 30‐day postoperative mortality. Logistic regression models were used to calculate adjusted 30‐day mortality rates stratified by time from diagnosis of SARS‐CoV‐2 infection to surgery. Among 140,231 patients (116 countries), 3127 patients (2.2%) had a pre‐operative SARS‐CoV‐2 diagnosis. Adjusted 30‐day mortality in patients without SARS‐CoV‐2 infection was 1.5% (95%CI 1.4–1.5). In patients with a pre‐operative SARS‐CoV‐2 diagnosis, mortality was increased in patients having surgery within 0–2 weeks, 3–4 weeks and 5–6 weeks of the diagnosis (odds ratio (95%CI) 4.1 (3.3–4.8), 3.9 (2.6–5.1) and 3.6 (2.0–5.2), respectively). Surgery performed ≥ 7 weeks after SARS‐CoV‐2 diagnosis was associated with a similar mortality risk to baseline (odds ratio (95%CI) 1.5 (0.9–2.1)). After a ≥ 7 week delay in undertaking surgery following SARS‐CoV‐2 infection, patients with ongoing symptoms had a higher mortality than patients whose symptoms had resolved or who had been asymptomatic (6.0% (95%CI 3.2–8.7) vs. 2.4% (95%CI 1.4–3.4) vs. 1.3% (95%CI 0.6–2.0), respectively). Where possible, surgery should be delayed for at least 7 weeks following SARS‐CoV‐2 infection. Patients with ongoing symptoms ≥ 7 weeks from diagnosis may benefit from further delay

Inequity in paediatric oncology in South Africa – The neuroblastoma case study

Background: The South African Constitution affords everyone the right to access healthcare services, but in children the care must ensure survival.

Aim: This study aimed to determine whether there was access to equitable paediatric oncology services for the management of neuroblastoma in South Africa.

Setting: Paediatric oncology services in South Africa between 2000 to 2014.

Methods: A literature review was carried out, focussing on access to healthcare in South Africa for children with neuroblastoma. Services were classified in accordance with the International Society of Paediatric Oncology resource settings for neuroblastoma diagnosis. Supplementary data from a retrospective study of the management of neuroblastoma in South Africa were evaluated.

Results: The neuroblastoma care services in South Africa were not uniformly resourced and accessible across the provinces. Two provinces (2/9 provinces) had excellent healthcare services that included access to transplant facilities, whilst three (3/9 provinces) had no services. Traveling distances to healthcare services pose major challenges, whilst number of medical staff providing oncology care were unequally distributed. The Constitution did not define basic healthcare for children, nor did the National Cancer Control plan acknowledge childhood cancer as a defined entity without provision until 2022.

Conclusion: Children diagnosed with neuroblastoma do not have equitable access to healthcare as stated in the South African Constitution. The case of neuroblastoma highlights the inequitable access to childhood care as a whole in South Africa. As the health of children is a national priority, it is therefore necessary to sensitise policymakers to the needs of children with cancer.

How do caregivers of children with congenital heart diseases access and navigate the healthcare system in Ethiopia?

Surgery can correct congenital heart defects, but disease management in low- and middle-income countries can be challenging and complex due to a lack of referral system, financial resources, human resources, and infrastructure for surgical and post-operative care. This study investigates the experiences of caregivers of children with CHD accessing the health care system and pediatric cardiac surgery.

A qualitative study was conducted at a teaching hospital in Ethiopia. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 13 caregivers of 10 patients with CHD who underwent cardiac surgery. We additionally conducted chart reviews for triangulation and verification. Interviews were conducted in Amharic and then translated into English. Data were analyzed according to the principles of interpretive thematic analysis, informed by the candidacy framework.

The following four observations emerged from the interviews: (a) most patients were diagnosed with CHD at birth if they were born at a health care facility, but for those born at home, CHD was discovered much later (b) many patients experienced misdiagnoses before seeking care at a large hospital, (c) after diagnosis, patients were waiting for the surgery for more than a year, (d) caregivers felt anxious and optimistic once they were able to schedule the surgical date. During the care-seeking journey, caregivers encountered financial constraints, struggled in a fragmented delivery system, and experienced poor service quality.

Delayed access to care was largely due to the lack of early CHD recognition and financial hardships, related to the inefficient and disorganized health care system. Fee waivers were available to assist low-income children in gaining access to health services or medications, but application information was not readily available. Indirect costs like long-distance travel contributed to this challenge. Overall, improvements must be made for district-level screening and the health care workforce.

Building sustainable and consequential research capacity within a global alliance of paediatric surgical centres

The Global Health Research Group on Children’s Non-Communicable Diseases recently launched the PaedsCancer (COVID) study to measure the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on paediatric cancer management worldwide. At the time of writing, collaborators hail from over 85 countries, of which over 64% are low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Global Children’s NCDs recognises the risk of propagating HIC dependence in global collaborative paediatric surgery research; LMICs, where the surgical need is greatest, accounted for just 15% of surgical research reports from the 35 highest output countries from 2009 to 2013.

Treating Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease Abroad? Imperatives for Local Health System Development

Over one million children are born with congenital heart defects each year, whereas four million children live with with rheumatic heart disease. Although a majority of these patients will eventually require surgical or interventional care, most live in areas without access to safe, timely, and affordable cardiac surgical care. Countries with limited or no local cardiac surgical care spend up to over 10% of their health budgets on sending patients abroad to receive cardiac care. Similarly, billions of dollars are spent each year on international medical tourism, notably including seeking cardiac surgical care abroad. Some low- and middle-income countries have successfully invested in domestic cardiac surgical services, saving tens of millions of dollars over time whilst strengthening local health systems. In this article, we describe international medical tourism for pediatric and congenital heart disease, and present an analysis on whether expenditure in seeking foreign care for cardiovascular patients is worth the cost in light of a neglect of investments in local cardiac services in countries with growing health systems.

Factors Associated with Congenital Heart Diseases Among Children in Uganda: A Case-Control Study at Mulago National Referral Hospital (Uganda Heart Institute)

Congenital Heart Diseases (CHD) are among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality associated with congenital malformations among children. Not knowing the risk profile of CHD among children in Uganda impedes development of effective prevention interventions. In this hospital based unmatched case-control study we examined risk
factors for all types of CHD among 179 pair of case and control children aged 0-10 years old at Mulago National Referral Hospital. Odds ratios and their corresponding 95% confidence intervals were calculated using multivariate logistic regression. Low birth weight (adjusted OR: 3.15, 95% CI 1.48 – 6.69), high birth order ≥5th birth order (adjusted OR: 3.69 (1.10 – 12.54), maternal febrile illness during pregnancy, maternal and paternal alcohol consumption, and paternal socio-economic status were associated with CHD. Family history of CHD, maternal education level, maternal chronic illness, and paternal education level were not associated with CHD. The results suggest: low birth weight, high birth order, and maternal febrile illness during pregnancy, parental alcohol use and paternal socio-economic status as dominant risk factors for CHD among children. Rigorous implementation of public health policies and strategies targeting prevention of febrile illness during pregnancy, maternal malnutrition, parental alcohol consumption, delivery of high number of children per woman, might be important in reducing the burden of CHD among children in Uganda

Hydrostatic reduction of intussusception with intermittent radiography: an alternative to fluoroscopy or ultrasound-guided reduction in low-income and middle-income countries

Background Although hydrostatic reduction of intussusception with ultrasound (US) or fluoroscopy guidance is well known, it is not yet well established in many low-income and middle-income countries. The aim of the study is to report our results of hydrostatic reduction with intermittent radiography, which has the potential to be practiced in resource-limited settings.

Methods We retrospectively analyzed our patients with intussusception from 2009 to 2019 (11 years). Hydrostatic reduction was performed using water-soluble contrast medium (iopamidol), and reduction was followed with intermittent X-rays taken after every 50 mL of diluted contrast injection. The procedure was not continuously monitored by US or fluoroscopy. Differences in outcome based on age and gender, and yearly trends of admission for intussusception, types of treatment and mortality were analyzed.

Results Among 672 patients, the ratio of boys to girls was 2.46:1.0, and their ages ranged from 1 month to 15 years (median 8 months). Hydrostatic reduction was performed successfully in 351 (52.23%) patients; 308 (45.83%) patients underwent surgery; and 13 (1.93%) patients died before any intervention. There were significant differences in age between patients with successful hydrostatic reduction (median 7 months) and patients needing surgery (median 9 months) (p<0.001). The number of successful hydrostatic reductions increased during the 11 years of the study (R2=0.88). One patient (0.15%) died after hydrostatic reduction, and 10 (1.49%) died after surgery.

Conclusion Hydrostatic reduction with intermittent radiography was performed successfully in more than half of the patients with acceptable complication rates.

Protocol for a Systematic Review of Outcomes From Microsurgical Free Tissue Transfer Performed on Short-term Surgical Missions in Low-income and Middle-income Countries

Background: In many units around the world, microsurgical free tissue transfer represents the gold standard for reconstruction of significant soft tissue defects following cancer, trauma or infection. However, many reconstructive units in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) do not yet have access to the resources, infrastructure or training required to perform any microsurgical procedures. Long-term international collaborations have been formed with annual short-term reconstructive missions conducting microsurgery. In the first instance, these provide reconstructive surgery to those who need it. In the longer-term, they offer an opportunity for teaching and the development of sustainable local services.

Methods: A PRISMA-compliant systematic review and meta-analysis will be performed. A comprehensive, predetermined search strategy will be applied to the MEDLINE and Embase electronic databases from inception to December 2020. All clinical studies presenting sufficient data on free tissue transfer performed on short-term surgical missions (STSMs) in LMICs will be eligible for inclusion. The primary outcomes are rate of free flap failure, rate of emergency return to theatre for free flap salvage and successful salvage rate. The secondary outcomes include postoperative complications and any functional or patient reported outcome measures. Screening of studies, data extraction and assessments of study quality and bias will be conducted by two authors. Individual study quality will be assessed according to the Oxford Evidence-based Medicine Scales of Evidence 2, and risk of bias using either the ‘Revised Cochrane risk of bias tool for randomized trials’ (Rob2), or the ‘Risk of bias in non-randomized studies of interventions’ (ROBINS-I) tools. Overall strength of evidence will be assessed according to the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations (GRADE) approach.

Discussion: To-date the outcomes of microsurgical procedures performed on STSMs to LMICs are largely unknown. Improved education, funding and allocation of resources are needed to support surgeons in LMICs to perform free tissue transfer. STSMs provide a vehicle for sustainable collaboration and training. Disseminating microsurgical skills could improve the care received by patients living with reconstructive pathology in LMICs, but this is poorly established. This study sets out a robust protocol for a systematic review designed to critically analyse outcomes.

Mortality during and following hospital admission among school-aged children: a cohort study

Background: Far less is known about the reasons for hospitalization or mortality during and after hospitalization among school-aged children than among under-fives in low- and middle-income countries. This study aimed to describe common types of illness causing hospitalisation; inpatient mortality and post-discharge mortality among school-age children at Kilifi County Hospital (KCH), Kenya.
Methods: A retrospective cohort study of children 5−12 years old admitted at KCH, 2007 to 2016, and resident within the Kilifi Health Demographic Surveillance System (KHDSS). Children discharged alive were followed up for one year by quarterly census. Outcomes were inpatient and one-year post-discharge mortality.
Results: We included 3,907 admissions among 3,196 children with a median age of 7 years 8 months (IQR 74−116 months). Severe anaemia (792, 20%), malaria (749, 19%), sickle cell disease (408, 10%), trauma (408, 10%), and severe pneumonia (340, 8.7%) were the commonest reasons for admission. Comorbidities included 623 (16%) with severe wasting, 386 (10%) with severe stunting, 90 (2.3%) with oedematous malnutrition and 194 (5.0%) with HIV infection. 132 (3.4%) children died during hospitalisation. Inpatient death was associated with signs of disease severity, age, bacteraemia, HIV infection and severe stunting. After discharge, 89/2,997 (3.0%) children died within one year during 2,853 child-years observed (31.2 deaths [95%CI, 25.3−38.4] per 1,000 child-years). 63/89 (71%) of post-discharge deaths occurred within three months and 45% of deaths occurred outside hospital. Post-discharge mortality was positively associated with weak pulse, tachypnoea, severe anaemia, HIV infection and severe wasting and negatively associated with malaria.
Conclusions: Reasons for admissions are markedly different from those reported in under-fives. There was significant post-discharge mortality, suggesting hospitalisation is a marker of risk in this population. Our findings inform guideline development to include risk stratification, targeted post-discharge care and facilitate access to healthcare to improve survival in the early months post-discharge in school-aged children.