Because of Corona: 28 million operations postponed worldwide

A huge data set collected by British researchers shows the extent to which operations had to be postponed worldwide due to the corona pandemic. The Ärzteblatt reports on the survey.

In Germany, for example, 52,000 cancer operations will be postponed due to Covid 19. Urgent interventions are said to continue to take place immediately.

In an international comparison, it is striking that richer countries are more successful than poorer people in treating cancer and Covid 19 patients to some extent on equal terms.

What many feared two months ago has not yet occurred in Germany: the corona pandemic has not caused the health system and hospitals to collapse. Covid-19 patients can receive adequate care. In contrast to the case in northern Italy, for example, doctors currently have enough ventilators for patients with severe courses.

The worst possible case has not occurred in this country. But: Sars-CoV-2 is a burden on the health care system – this can be seen from the interventions that medical doctors were unable to carry out due to the corona pandemic: around 28 million planned surgical operations have been postponed worldwide in the past twelve weeks, about 2.4 million every week. This includes many cancer surgeries.

The number comes from a data collection by the National Institute for Health Research at the University of Birmingham, Great Britain. It was published in the British Journal of Surgery released.

909,000 operations are postponed in Germany

The survey includes data from 359 clinics from 71 countries. This is the largest data set on the postponed operations issue that has been published to date. The numbers were collected and evaluated by an international association of more than 5,000 surgeons – the so-called CovidSurg Collaborative Group – from more than 120 countries. Depending on the country, the course of the corona crisis was somewhat different, but the calculations everywhere include the peak of the interruptions in normal clinical processes.

34 German clinics contributed data, including the Berlin Charité or the University Hospital Bonn. In total, the scientists come to a number of almost 909,000 postponed operations for Germany. 850,000 of these interventions are elective, which means that they are operations that are not emergencies and can therefore be carried out later.

Cancer surgeries are also affected – but not urgent

But even in the case of malignant diseases – i.e. those that are progressively destructive and can lead to death – hospitals have had to postpone the operating theaters. A total of 24 percent of these interventions for malignant diseases have been postponed for the time being, expressed in absolute numbers: 52,000 cancer operations in Germany will be postponed because of corona. However, urgent interventions continue to take place, says Markus Albertsmeier, surgeon at Munich’s LMU Clinic. “German capacities are generally assessed so that no urgent cancer surgery needs to be delayed,” says the doctor, who works with other German surgeons at CovidSurg.

Researchers at the Rheinische Fachhochschule Köln have recently rated the number of interventions postponed in Germany even higher than the British researchers. According to the Cologne experts, 1.6 million operations had to be postponed between German hospitals between mid-March and early May. Experts are now sticking to the new data from Birmingham, mainly because the international comparability makes it appear more valid.

Richer countries are more likely to balance Covid-19 and other patients

If you look at other countries, you will notice: States that are richer and better off socio-economically postpone cancer surgery less than poorer countries. In affluent Norway, for example, hospitals – like in Germany – initially postponed only 23 percent of cancer surgery. In less affluent Vietnam, there are already 56 percent and in northeastern Sudan 72 percent of cancer surgery has been postponed. And even in countries that officially belong to the “upper middle income” nations, almost half (43.4 percent) of cancer surgeries are postponed.

The reason for this is obvious: it is the lack of intensive care beds that lead to cancer patients having to vacate their place for those with severe Covid-19 illnesses in the short term. In more affluent countries such as Germany, the study authors suspect, cancer and Covid 19 patients can be treated fairly equally. In poorer countries, on the other hand, the majority of cancer surgeries simply have to be postponed.


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