The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international reconstructive collaborations in Africa

The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic has catalysed a widespread humanitarian crisis in many low- and middle-income countries around the world, with many African nations significantly impacted. The aim of this study was to quantify the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the planning and provision of international reconstructive collaborations in Africa.

An anonymous, 14-question, multiple choice questionnaire was sent to 27 non-governmental organisations who regularly perform reconstructive surgery in Africa. The survey was open to responses for four weeks, closing on the 7th of March 2021. A single reminder was sent out at 2 weeks. The survey covered four key domains: (1) NGO demographics; (2) the impact of COVID-19 on patient follow-up; (3) barriers to the safe provision of international surgical collaborations during COVID-19; (4) the impact of COVID-19 on NGO funding.

A total of ten reconstructive NGOs completed the survey (response rate, 37%). Ethiopia (n = 5) and Tanzania (n = 4) were the countries where most collaborations took place. Plastic, reconstructive and burns surgery was the most common sub-speciality (n = 7). For NGOs that did not have a year-round presence in country (n = 8), only one NGO was able to perform reconstructive surgery in Africa during the pandemic. The most common barrier identified was travel restrictions (within country, n = 8 or country entry-exit, n = 7). Pre-pandemic, 1547 to ≥ 1800 patients received reconstructive surgery on international surgical collaborations. After the outbreak, 70% of NGOs surveyed had treated no patients, with approximately 1405 to ≥ 1640 patients left untreated over the last year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed huge pressures on health services and their delivery across the globe. This theme has extended into international surgical collaborations leading to increased unmet surgical needs in low- and middle-income countries.