Sword of Damocles: application of the ethical principles of resource allocation to essential cancer surgery patients requiring beds in limited supply during the COVID-19 pandemic

As a surge of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) patients strains the health care systems, shortages of health care professionals and life-saving equipment such as ventilators are forcing hospitals to make difficult decisions [1, 2]. It is critical that these health care systems consider whether non-essential surgical procedures can be delayed to ration medical equipment and interventions. Theatre list shortages occur for many reasons, including lack of beds, lack of ventilators, lack of anaesthetic staff, lack of surgical staff, lack of nursing staff and material shortages (e.g. personal protective equipment). Contributing to resource scarcity is the prolonged intubation many COVID-19 patients require as they recover from pneumonia, often two to three weeks, with several hours spent in the prone position and then, typically, a very slow weaning. During shortages, health care systems must determine how to fairly distribute these scarce resources to patients. Unfortunately, no single distribution framework applies to all shortages. However, general allocation principles for scarce health care resources, grounded in distributive justice and utility, can be applied, although particular rules will differ depending on the circumstances.

Impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) pandemic on pediatric oncology care in the Middle East, North Africa, and West Asia Region: A report from the Pediatric Oncology East and Mediterranean (POEM) Group

Childhood cancer is a highly curable disease when timely diagnosis and appropriate therapy are provided. A negative impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) pandemic on access to care for children with cancer is likely but has not been evaluated.

A 34‐item survey focusing on barriers to pediatric oncology management during the COVID‐19 pandemic was distributed to heads of pediatric oncology units within the Pediatric Oncology East and Mediterranean (POEM) collaborative group, from the Middle East, North Africa, and West Asia. Responses were collected on April 11 through 22, 2020. Corresponding rates of proven COVID‐19 cases and deaths were retrieved from the World Health Organization database.

In total, 34 centers from 19 countries participated. Almost all centers applied guidelines to optimize resource utilization and safety, including delaying off‐treatment visits, rotating and reducing staff, and implementing social distancing, hand hygiene measures, and personal protective equipment use. Essential treatments, including chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy, were delayed in 29% to 44% of centers, and 24% of centers restricted acceptance of new patients. Clinical care delivery was reported as negatively affected in 28% of centers. Greater than 70% of centers reported shortages in blood products, and 47% to 62% reported interruptions in surgery and radiation as well as medication shortages. However, bed availability was affected in <30% of centers, reflecting the low rates of COVID‐19 hospitalizations in the corresponding countries at the time of the survey.

Mechanisms to approach childhood cancer treatment delivery during crises need to be re‐evaluated, because treatment interruptions and delays are expected to affect patient outcomes in this otherwise largely curable disease.

Management of cervical cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic: a challenge for developing countries

During the COVID-19 pandemic, health services worldwide are going through important adaptations to assist patients infected with COVID-19, at the same time as continuing to provide assistance to other potentially life-threatening diseases. Although patients with cancer may be at increased risk for severe events related to COVID-19 infection, their oncologic treatments frequently cannot be delayed for long periods without jeopardising oncologic outcomes. Considering this, a careful consideration for treatment management of different malignancies is required.

Cervical cancer is concentrated mainly in low-middle income countries (LMICs), which face particular challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the scarcity of health resources in many places. Although cervical cancer is the fourth cause of cancer death among women, it receives little attention from international Oncology societies and scientific research studies. In this review paper, we discuss the cervical cancer landscape and provide specialists recommendations for its management during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly focused on LMICs’ reality.

Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on children’s surgery in Africa

An outbreak of the disease known as COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan in the Hubei province of China, has rapidly spread to all continents of the globe. First detected via local hospital surveillance systems as a ‘pneumonia of unknown aetiology’ in late December 2019, the disease has since been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the WHO and reached pandemic status.

It is uncertain what the eventual toll of the pandemic will be in Africa; however, there has been a suspicion that the looming pandemic may hit harder than it has the rest of the world. Africa has baseline weaknesses in healthcare resource allocation, and her fragile healthcare systems are particularly vulnerable to being overwhelmed by this illness. Available statistics, to date, however, seem to show that the pandemic has been slow to begin. As of 26 May, 115 346 cases and 3471 deaths have been reported across the whole African continent, constituting 2% of all cases in the globe. African nations have had an opportunity to prepare for the coming onslaught, learn from the experience in other countries and choose interventions that are tailor-made for the unique socioeconomic context.

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COVID-19: Initial experience of an international group of hand surgeons

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected medical treatment protocols throughout the world. While the pandemic does not affect hand surgeons at first glance, they have a role to play. The purpose of this study was to describe the different measures that have been put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic by hand surgeons throughout the world. The survey comprised 47 surgeons working in 34 countries who responded to an online questionnaire. We found that the protocols varied in terms of visitors, health professionals in the operating room, patient waiting areas, wards and emergency rooms. Based on these preliminary findings, an international consensus on hand surgery practices for the current viral pandemic, and future ones, needs to be built rapidly.