More than half a million elective surgeries and nearly 80,000 cancer and obstetric operations have been delayed or cancelled in India because of the lockdown, according to an international research consortium.

This comes in the wake of the Union health ministry in March urging hospitals to postpone elective surgeries to reduce the risk of patients being exposed to coronavirus.

About 505,800 non-emergency surgeries, 51,100 cancer surgeries, and 27,700 obstetric surgeries could have been delayed across India during the three-month period before and after the peak of the viral outbreak, according to the CovidSurg Collaborative, a research network of surgeons and anaesthetists from 77 countries, including India.

The study’s findings were recently published in British Journal of Surgery.

The pace of surgical procedures should now return to normal, albeit with proper precautions to clear the backlog, doctors said.

Dr P. Raghu Ram, president of the Association of Surgeons of India, stressed the need to start operating on urgent cases. “We’ve been in lockdown for almost two months and have started urgent surgical cases for cancer and cardiac patients. We cannot defer surgeries any further as a patient’s disease can progress to an advanced stage,” he said.

Worldwide, around 28 million surgeries could have been cancelled or delayed, according to the study. It would take an average of 45 weeks to clear the backlog, if countries boost their normal surgical volume by 20%, said the research consortium.

In the new situation, each case needs to be weighed differently and precautions taken, said Dr Nandakumar Jairam, group chief executive officer (CEO) of Columbia Asia Hospitals. “The virus is here to stay. We in the healthcare sector must realign ourselves,” he said.

“Every day matters for a cancer patient. I am hoping the mortality rate does not rise. Hospitals must resume normal business with adequate protocols in place,” said Dr B.S. Ajai Kumar, chairman and CEO of HCG Cancer Group of hospitals. Ram suggested surgeons go ahead with procedures “taking all precautions and presuming the patient is covid positive” in case the person is asymptomatic. Dr Harit Chaturvedi, chairman, Institute of Cancer Care at Delhi’s Max Super Speciality Hospital, said he had seen two dozen patients with cancer in March but could not take the next step in their treatment because of the lockdown.

“Last month we did just one-third of the number of surgeries we did in April 2019, which means two-thirds were postponed. In Delhi-NCR, approximately 5,000 cancer surgeries happen every month but last month less than 500 happened. We are opening up to semi-urgent surgeries soon. The issue now is how to handle the huge backlog of patients awaiting surgery,” he said.

More than 300 surgeries had to be put off for two months at Narayana Netralaya, a chain of eye hospitals. “We have developed new protocols to ensure eye conditions do not deteriorate,” said Dr K. Bhujang Shetty, chairman Narayana Netralaya.

News Source: Livemint

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