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Coronavirus fears affected cancer patient care in PHL

CONSULTATIONS and treatment of cancer patients declined during the lockdown due to fears of coronavirus infection, according to doctors. 

Frederick Ting, an oncologist based in Bacolod City, said 85% of oncologists reported a decrease in the number of cancer patients daily, citing a survey done by the Philippine Society of Medical Oncologists among 92 oncologists.

The patients opted not to see their doctors “mostly out of fear” of contracting the virus in hospitals.

“Seventy-four percent of oncologists actually had cancer patients who deteriorated or died because of not being able to seek urgent care to the hospital,” Mr. Ting said in an online forum hosted by pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.

He added that 94% of the oncologists said most systemic therapies such as chemotherapy were delayed for a period ranging from one to two weeks.

Other challenges faced in cancer care amid the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) outbreak are disruption of diagnosis and treatment, limited access to public transportation, shortage of hospital resources, and exhaustion and stigma against healthcare workers.

Antonio Ramos, manager of the Lung Center of the Philippines, said  chemotherapy at the government-run hospital was reduced to 40% as patients were afraid of COVID-19 and had limited mobility.

The numbers have improved, Mr. Ramos said, as quarantine rules eased up.

In radiotherapy, for example, Mr. Ramos said the 3,300 monthly treatments they were handling before coronavirus dropped in June to 300 a month.

“Now we’re up to 66%, we’re doing 1,900 last count and we were happy about it, our machines are again being utilized fully,” he said.

The New Normal, Same Cancer Coalition in Asia said “timely diagnosis and treatment are critical factors to determine the success of cancer treatment.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges to healthcare systems across Asia, including cancer services. As countries enter a ‘new normal’, we strongly urge cancer patients to access the right services without delay to give any treatment the best chances of success,” the coalition said in a statement.

They are composed of oncologists Ullas Bartra from India, Muhammad Yusuf  from Indonesia, Murallitharan Munisamy from Malaysia, Messrs. Ramos and Ting from the Philippines, and Chng Wee Joo and Wong Seng Weng from Singapore.

Mr. Chng said access to care is critical “because cancer doesn’t wait.”

AstraZeneca said in a press release that other countries also experienced decrease in cancer care due to coronavirus.

The company cited a survey of 480 oncosurgeons in India indicating that an estimated 92,000 patients are likely to have delayed timely diagnosis.

There was also a drop of 9% in first visit consultation and 30% drop in follow-up consultation at the National University Cancer Institute in Singapore between February and March, it said. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

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